Assessing Your Oral Health with Phase Contrast Microscopy

Despite what decades of advertising have led a lot of people to believe, a healthy mouth isn’t a germ-free mouth. In fact, a germ-free mouth isn’t even possible. Your mouth is always teeming with microbes, including viruses, fungi, parasites, and an estimated 20 billion bacteria.

More than 600 species of bacteria can be found in the human mouth, though only a small fraction predominates at any given time. Not all of them are bad. Some of them are actually quite helpful in maintaining good mouth/body health.

The key is to maintain a healthy microbial balance, with enough of the right kinds of bacteria to keep pathological ones in check.

Eating right is one way this happens. Using natural hygiene products for your home care is another. So is visiting our office for regular cleanings and checkups so we can keep an eye on the state of your oral microbiome and adjust your care as needed to restore balance.

One of the ways we do that is with a simple but profound tool that’s still a rarity in many dental offices today: a phase contrast microscope.

What Phase Contrast Microscopy Can Tell Us

A phase contrast microscope is a type of optical microscope that lets us look at live specimens in their natural state. We don’t need to kill, stain, or fix them in place. We can watch biological processes in real time – and you can, too, since we can display what we’re seeing on a computer monitor.

All we need is a small sample of your dental biofilm (plaque) to smear on a glass slide we put under the microscope to survey the kinds of microbes present in your mouth. While we can’t identify specific species, we can get a quick view of your mouth’s overall bacterial load. We can also identify types of microbes and cells to evaluate your risk of various oral health problems.

For instance, there are long, thin, corkscrew-shaped microbes called spirochetes we often see wriggling about. Their presence is a sign of active gum disease. Over the long term, they can contribute to other inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name but a few.

Cocci, on the other hand, are a type of bacteria we expect to see in a healthy mouth, while spinning rods are only of moderate concern in relation to pathogens such as gliding rods, or even parasites such as amoebae and fungi such as Candida. Different types of microbes carry different risks and have different effects.

In this video, you can see what some of these microbes look like when viewed through the phase contrast microscope:

Personalizing Your Dental Care

Once we have a read on the current state of your oral microbiome, we can provide you with a more specific, personalized kind of cleaning than you’d get in your average dental office. We can also offer more tailored advice for improving your mouth’s microbial balance at home, from nutritional tips to special hygiene practices that can help you restore balance.

Bottom line: At the Holistic Dental Center of New Jersey, we don’t do one-size-fits-all dentistry. We provide dental care specific to your personal needs and health goals – and do so in a way that supports your whole body health.

This is especially important when it comes to gum disease, a condition that raises your risk of a whole host of systemic health problems, from heart disease to cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis to chronic kidney disease, and even some cancers. Improving the health of your gums is one of the top things you can do to improve your overall health over the long haul – not to mention that healthy gums are also essential for the long-term success of any dental work you may want or need, including dental implants. Successful, attractive, and durable dental restorations require strong, healthy supporting tissues.

Of course, if you maintain a healthy, well-balanced oral microbiome, you might never need any restorative dental care at all!

To learn more about the oral microbiome, check out Dr. David Kennedy’s short video “Bad Bugs.”