The Oral and Gut Microbial Axis
What’s your favorite thing about the ocean: the calming waves, the seagulls cooing, the warm sun on your skin, the sand shifting easily beneath your feet, or maybe the inviting water that calls you in?
The whole experience of the beach is relaxing — until we start watching movies like Jaws that is. We start to realize there is a whole world beneath us. It’s living, breathing, ebbing, and flowing all below the surface.
The ocean is a biome — just like the forest, desert, and our bodies.
Our bodies have several smaller biomes inside of them (microbiomes). Just like the ocean and other parts of nature, our bodies have many biomes that help it to maintain balance.
One part can’t exist without the other and they all influence each other — usually for the better, sometimes for the worst depending on if our bodies have maintained homeostasis.
We’d like to let you know how two of your microbiomes interact with each other: the oral (mouth) and gut microbiomes.
What is a Microbiome?
When you break down the word you’ll have micro- and -biome.
Micro- — small
-biome — an ecosystem of living organisms
So, microbiome means an ecosystem of small organisms living (hopefully) in harmony.
Some of the microorganisms you’ll find within a healthy microbiome include bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and archaea. Oftentimes we will be warned about these little bugs that they are bad for our health, especially when it comes out of our mouths and guts.
Fortunately, there are healthy ones too (as long as they’re staying in the right areas to carry out their special jobs). Each microbiome has specific bacteria to take care of that area and help it to interact with the other microbiomes in your body.
The Oral Microbiome
Your oral microbiome is one of the most stable microbiomes in your body. There aren’t many things that adjust the diversity or quantity of bacteria living there.
The oral microbiome is the second largest and most diverse microbiome in your body — second only to your gut. So it’s extremely important to make sure you take good care of it.
Since the oral microbiome is the beginning point of digestion it needs to have the right balance of bacteria to start the breakdown of your food. Saliva is the biggest factor in all of this.
Salivas Role in the Oral/Gut Axis
Remember learning about Pavlov’s dogs? How at the ding of a bell they’d start salivating knowing that they were about to eat?
Well, our bodies have a similar reaction, not to a bell, but to the smell of food.
When you smell food it triggers your brain that it’s almost time to eat. This sets off a cascade of events starting with your mouth watering. The increase of saliva is to help you break down your food. Usually, our teeth get all the credit here, but actually your saliva has a huge role in the breakdown of food.
As you chew, more saliva helps to soften the food and let you swallow it faster and easier than if your mouth was dry. Your saliva travels with your chewed up food down through your digestive tract to allow it to continue the digestive process. Saliva is a key link in how your oral microbiome affects your gut microbiome.
Saliva carries more than just your food through your digestive tract. It also brings along some of your oral bacteria along with it to help digest your food more on its voyage through your body.
Oral Bacteria-Induced Dysbiosis
Oral diseases are caused by bacteria. These same bacteria causing problems in your mouth are then transported on the waterslide that is your bacteria.
Bacteria like P. gingivalis and A. actinomycetemcomitans have been linked to causing gastrointestinal dysbiosis.
There are some bacterial strains that are found in both the oral and gut microbiomes. They are derived from different sources but can live in each area simultaneously or alone. However, when strains of bacteria like Helicobacter pylori are eradicated from one but still in the other area, it can be a source of reinfection to the other area.
- pylori is easier to eradicate in the gut than it is in the mouth, so making sure both are taken care of to make sure the other can remain in homeostasis is extremely important to host health.
Oral Disturbances Leading to Systemic Problems Via the Gut Microbiome
Now, we know that once the gut is in dysbiosis it leads to inflammation all throughout the body. That one little ecosystem makes the entire body light up like wildfire causing system crashes all over.
One of the biggest mysteries in this connection is how oral plaques are found in blood vessels of the heart in atherosclerosis patients.
The gut is under scrutiny as a modulator for this problem.
When patients have periodontitis (commonly known as gum disease), they’re at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, especially atherosclerosis. The inflammation in your gums is caused by bacteria.
As stated above, these bacteria can hitch a ride down to your gut through your saliva. They don’t belong in your gut and so a battle begins. Your good bacteria come to defense signaling for backup from your immune system. The extra cells are needed to help fight so they aren’t able to protect your GI tract like they normally would — allowing for intestinal permeability.
This ultimately allows for bacteria and plaques to escape and be circulated throughout the bloodstream giving them immediate access to your cardiovascular system.
Keeping your mouth clean and healthy can help to avoid this mess altogether.
Avoiding Health Problems Through Supporting Your Gut and Mouth
What you’re about to read is going to be a little mind-blowing. You definitely should be on a good routine with brushing your teeth twice a day.
But, you should not use mouthwash.
Mouthwash kills bacteria in your mouth, which is good, but it also kills the health-promoting bacteria. It’s sort of like when you take an antibiotic to get rid of an infection, it helps get rid of the infection but your gut takes a serious punch and your microbial diversity is depleted. It was also found that mouthwash can lead to a higher chance of having pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Eating a healthy diet can support both your gut and mouth health. One study found that drinking tea supports a very healthy and diverse oral microbiome, and there are numerous studies supporting this for gut health as well. (Tea was pinned up against coffee and coffee is not as beneficial as tea, so one more reason to not drink it if it makes your IBS act up.)
Leading a healthy and hygienic lifestyle will help to keep all of your microbiomes in check. Just like you don’t like to see trash floating around along the beach, you don’t want trash floating around inside your body. It disrupts the delicate balance of life inside.
How do you balance your healthy and hygienic lifestyle? Let us know in the comments below!