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A Healthy Mouth Needs a Healthy Gut, & Vice Versa

Just as neighborhoods in a city have different types of buildings and infrastructure, the human body provides various niches and environments for different types of microbes to inhabit. Your gut is one such microbial neighborhood. Your mouth is another.

We call each of these neighborhoods a microbiome, where trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms coexist in a delicate balance.

Much like people in a community, microbes engage in complex interactions. They communicate, cooperate, compete for resources, and influence each other’s behavior. Some play essential roles, like trash collectors and recyclers, breaking down waste and making nutrients available. Others act as peacekeepers, maintaining order and preventing harmful microbes from taking over.

And just as most human communities exist in relation to others, so do your body’s microbiomes. Some relationships are closer than others. Perhaps none are so close as the one between mouth and gut.

How Mouth & Gut Are Connected

Good oral health is marked by having a diverse and balanced oral microbiome. Your mouth’s health, in turn, depends on the health of your gut. The reverse is true, as well.

One reason for this is quite obvious: Digestion starts in the mouth. Food enters, and immediately, your saliva and oral bacteria start to break it down. You swallow, and the gut finishes the job.

What you eat has a powerful impact on the composition of your gut flora. Research has shown that a diet that’s dominated by ultra-processed foods reduces bacterial diversity in the gut. This reduced diversity, in turn, has been associated with worse overall health.

At the same time, oral pathogens – harmful bacteria from the mouth – are often found in the guts of those with gastrointestinal issues, even as many digestive disorders typically have dental complications.

What it all boils down to is this: Mouth and gut have a two-way relationship. The health of one depends on the health of the other. Let’s look at just one particular area in which this gut/mouth relationship plays out: periodontal (gum) disease.

How These Microbiomes Impact Gum Disease

We’ve talked a good bit before about the link between gum disease and systemic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Inflammation is one tie that binds, but according to the authors of a recent paper in the Japanese Dental Science Review, the gut may be another.

One emerging theory they note is that oral bacteria that are swallowed can disrupt the gut microbiota, leading to pathological changes that drive systemic disease. Experiments in mice, for instance, show that swallowing disease-causing bacteria like P. gingivalis – one of the major players in gum disease – induces gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria), impairs gut barrier function, causes inflammation, alters immune responses, and changes metabolite profiles.

This dysbiosis may influence the progression of many inflammatory conditions, including gum disease. There is evidence linking microbial imbalances in the gut to more severe periodontitis in mice. Human studies are also finding connections between gut dysbiosis and periodontal disease.

A Few Tips for Keeping Both the Oral & Intestinal Microbiomes Healthy

So what can you do to foster a healthy relationship between these two intricately intertwined microbial communities?

  • Eat a diverse diet rich in fiber: A varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes provides prebiotics that nourish beneficial gut bacteria. Include fermented foods – a great natural source of probiotics.
  • Limit ultra-processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and sugars: The first two substances can negatively impact the gut microbiome and contribute to dysbiosis . The third – sugars – can feed harmful bacteria and contribute to imbalance in the oral microbiome.
  • Drink plenty of water: Staying well hydrated helps support healthy salivary and digestive functions, which are essential for maintaining a balanced microbiome in both the mouth and gut.
  • Reduce stress: Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on both the oral and gut microbiomes, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress effectively.
  • Limit antibiotic use: Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in both the mouth and gut, so it’s best to use them judiciously and only when necessary.
  • Consider probiotic supplements: Probiotics – whether taken through food or supplements can help introduce more beneficial bacteria to the gut.
  • Brush and floss regularly: Proper oral hygiene helps remove plaque and food debris, which can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the mouth. Consider using a fluoride-free pro- or prebiotic toothpaste and/or rinse.