It’s hard to go a day without hearing something new about how important your gut health is.
New research reveals the role of your intestinal bacteria all over your body. It’s shown a close link between our gut microbiome and overall health, too. Your gut health is pivotal to many processes in our body.
But almost ironically, your oral microbiome has had less attention. Yet it’s much easier to listen to what your oral flora can tell you. It can even tell us about your gut microbiome.
Let’s look at what the oral microbiome can tell you about your gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome
The ‘gut microbiome’ refers to the trillions of living organisms in your digestive system.
Researchers have found many links between our intestinal bacteria and organs. Your gut microbiome influences your digestion, immune system, metabolism, and hormones. It even affects neurotransmitters that control mood and brain activity.
When your intestinal bacteria are imbalanced, problems show up all over your body. Often, you can see the signs in your mouth. Your oral microbiome and gut microbiome are co-dependent.
How good bacteria in mouth affects your gut flora
An unborn child’s digestive system doesn’t contain microbes from the environment. These microbes are introduced as they move through the vaginal canal. After birth, oral and gut bacteria are influenced by breastfeeding.
A mother’s gut has special cells that send microbes to her mammary gland. Her breastmilk delivers these probiotic bacteria straight to her baby’s mouth.
The baby’s oral flora then begins seeding the gut microbiome. The good bacteria shape their immune system. During their life, thousands more will be sent to their gut every time they swallow.
Don’t worry about ingesting microbes when you swallow! Your oral microbiome and other good bacteria is the first line of defense. It protects your larger gut microbiome.
Your microbiome and leaky gut
An imbalance in your gut bacteria is known as gut dysbiosis. When you’re healthy, your good bacteria keep your gut lining strong and functional. This is important, as 80% of your immune system lies within your gut. However, gut imbalance can interfere with this process.
‘Leaky gut’ occurs when your gut lining loses its barrier function. The cross-talk between your gut bacteria and the immune system becomes chaotic. Bacteria, undigested food, and toxins flood your immune system.
Research is now linking ‘leaky gut’ and gut dysbiosis to IBS, auto-immunity, type-II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Does gut microbiome imbalance begin in the mouth?
The gut microbiome has attracted most of the attention from scientists. However, there’s a similar relationship between the oral microbiota and the immune system.
Gut bacteria imbalances send inflammatory signals to your immune system. This means symptoms can occur all over your body, including your mouth. That’s why oral health can be useful for monitoring gut health. Bleeding gums (gingivitis) is a common sign of bacteria imbalance in your mouth that relates to your gut.
Let’s look at how your oral flora and good mouth bacteria interact with your gut flora.
The gingival crevice – Where your oral microbiota hide
Gingival crevices or pockets are the small gaps between your teeth and gums.
Your oral microbiota loves to live in these pockets. It’s the safest place to build a comfy home – dental plaque (known as biofilm). The bacteria use plaque to shelter from the harsh conditions in your mouth. They’re in close contact with your immune system via the gum’s blood vessels.
When you’re healthy, your good bacteria are diverse and balanced. Friendly oral flora is present, working in tandem with your immune system. Probiotic bacteria compete with harmful bugs, preventing overgrowth and disease.
But when bacterial imbalance occurs in pockets, inflammation can occur. This can cause bleeding.
The health of your gingival crevices is a snapshot of the health of your oral microbiome.
Bad Bacteria and Pre-Bleeding Gums
Your oral microbiota speak with your immune system just like they do in your gut. If you feed them an unhealthy diet or don’t replace friendly bacteria, imbalance can occur.
Bleeding gums may be the first sign of inflammation in your mouth. But even before your gums bleed, oral microbiome imbalances are happening. You just haven’t noticed yet!
It only takes 4 days for harmful microbes to build up in dental plaque. Oral flora is dependent on the presence of an array of probiotic species. When one is removed, the balance of the oral flora can change quickly.
In the gingival crevices, an influx of harmful bacteria (Strep spp) are detected. Your immune system responds with an acute inflammatory reaction.
The flow of gingival crevicular fluid (GCF) into the pockets increases. This contains proteins that fuel the growth of bad bacteria. Blood flow also increases, but the gums aren’t bleeding yet. The first immune response cells are sent into the gum pocket as imbalance increases.
Gingivitis (bleeding gums)
Over the next few days, the oral flora imbalance worsens. Oxygen in the pockets becomes scarce. Harmful bacteria that thrive without oxygen begin to multiply. In response, your body sends more specific immune cells to remove the harmful bacteria.
Gingival fluid is now at peak flow and your gums are visibly bleeding.
Gum disease and the gut microbiome
Bleeding gums (gingivitis) can progress to gum (periodontal) disease.
In gum disease, your gingival crevices are chronically inflamed. As time passes, they begin to pull away from your teeth. The process is fed by harmful bacteria, feeding on proteins from the gingival fluid. If this process continues, immune cells begin to degrade the bone around your teeth.
Gum disease progresses differently in different people. For some, bleeding gums won’t progress into serious disease. Others see a rapid decline in their gum health.
This is because the immune system plays a big part in gum disease. Antibodies in the gut are sent to deal with gum disease. Your bacteria dictate how these cells respond to the threat. If your gut microbiome is healthy, your immune system should cope well.
The role your gut microbes in bleeding gums
Your gut microbiome is the control center of your microbiota and immune system.
Your immune system identifies and destroys disease-causing agents. But once this is done, it begins the healing process, rebuilding damaged tissue.
Your gut is the organ most exposed to disease causing factors. It’s also the organ that manages your immune response. Gut bacteria ‘present’ a snapshot of your environment to your immune system.
Good bacteria and foods can aid your digestive health. For instance, your gut microbiome needs dietary fiber. It ferments the fiber to make short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids keep your gut lining healthy. They also pass messages across it, between your gut bacteria and immune system. (Kind of like a tiny game of telephone).
A healthy, well-fed gut microbiome creates a ‘tolerant’ immune system. Inflammation doesn’t get out of hand. When your gums bleed, it shows that the immune cells sent to your mouth are from an over-reactive immune response. And that response begins in the gut!
The oral microbiome: The chicken or egg scenario?
The oral microbiome, like your gut bacteria, is crucial for oral health. If you don’t eat the right diet, your oral microbiome gets out of balance.
We’ve seen how gum disease starts with bacterial imbalance and inflammation. Hidden away, your imbalanced bacteria change the balance in your mouth. This new environment lets harmful, disease-causing microbes take over.
These destructive bacteria are detectable in your saliva. But they don’t stay in your mouth. You swallow them, carrying them to your gut. This may be how gum disease increases our risk of type-II diabetes and vice versa.
Once they travel to the gut, like oral bacteria, look for protective crevices to live. They hide away in the many folds of your gut. It’s in these crevices, just like in your gums there, they can cause the first stages of gut dysbiosis.
As the harmful bacteria tip the balance, they leave the crevice and travel to the next. Gut imbalance, like gum disease, is a progressive and chronic imbalance in the microbiome.
Your digestive system is one connected, closely related system. Your oral health can give early warning of problems elsewhere in your body.
Bleeding gums are an early sign of inflammation. They also show your immune system and gut microbiome are beginning to not like each other.
Both your oral and gut microbiome are complex systems. They play a huge role in your health. Long term mistreatment of the oral microbiome speaks to your entire body.
5 Tips to Keep Your Oral Flora and Good Mouth Bacteria in Balance
How can we ensure our oral microbiota is healthy and well-balanced?
- Add more fiber to your diet, including prebiotic
- Eat probiotic fermented foods.
- Brush and floss your teeth daily.
- If your gums bleed, book a dental appointment right away.
- Take an oral probiotic.
- Do you suffer from allergies, digestive problems or other inflammatory conditions alongside bleeding gums? See a gut health specialist. It’s time to investigate your gut health.
Do you suffer from bleeding gums? Have you noticed its related to your gut health? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
Click below to order your copy now: