I’ve previously talked about how 1. In the pursuit of optimal health, we often overlook the role of oral health in our overall well-being. Beyond fresh breath and a bright smile, research shows the profound impact of mouth bacteria on our health, locally within the oral cavity and systemically throughout the body.
Let’s look at the relationship between oral health, overall wellness, and longevity, highlighting the effects of mouth bacteria on bad breath, inflammation, cavities, cardiovascular disease (CVD), birth complications, pneumonia, arthritis, and even age-related cognitive decline.
Next, we’ll review oral hygiene practices such as flossing, brushing, tongue scraping, and the benefits of using a water pik.
The Oral Microbiome’s Local and Systemic Effects
Mouth bacteria, while often perceived as mere culprits of bad breath, extend their influence far beyond this cosmetic concern. About 90% of bad breath, or halitosis, is caused by oral health issues,2 but bad breath can indicate a more significant problem.
Accumulating harmful bacteria in the mouth leads to inflammation, which is linked to gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis. These conditions threaten teeth stability and contribute to systemic inflammation that can amplify the risk of various health issues.
Cavities, another common consequence of bacterial presence, arise when the oral microbiome produces acids that erode tooth enamel. This process causes discomfort and can contribute to broader health problems.
Oral-Systemic Connections: A Deeper Understanding
Research has found connections between oral health and seemingly unrelated health problems. Inflammation in the mouth allows harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause issues in seemingly unrelated areas of the body.
For example, oral bacteria are linked to a 19% higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).3 These bacteria trigger an inflammatory response in the cardiovascular system, potentially contributing to the development and progression of heart disease.
Expectant mothers should also be cautious, as poor oral health has been associated with birth complications. The oral microbiome’s influence on pregnancy outcomes4 highlights the importance of maintaining oral hygiene during this critical time.
Another unexpected result of inflammation in the mouth is an increase in resistance to insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels and potentially contributing to the development or exacerbation of diabetes. A meta-analysis of oral healthcare interventions5 showed statistically significant improvement in A1C (a measure of insulin resistance) in diabetic patients who received periodontal treatment.
Furthermore, oral bacteria are implicated in respiratory infections like pneumonia6. As the oral microbiome is a reservoir for various pathogens, the aspiration of these bacteria into the lungs can lead to respiratory problems, particularly in individuals with compromised immune systems.
Even arthritis, a condition traditionally associated with joint inflammation, may have a connection to the oral microbiome. A 2023 study suggests7 that specific oral bacteria might trigger or exacerbate inflammation in joints, contributing to the development or worsening of arthritis.
It’s been known that age-related cognitive decline is strongly correlated with poor oral health. A 2018 study demonstrated that exposing mice to harmful oral bacteria did indeed cause increased cognitive impairment.8
The Synergistic Effects of Oral Hygiene Practices
Flossing and brushing are two essential practices that synergistically contribute to oral health and overall well-being.
Flossing, often underestimated, plays a crucial role in breaking up bacteria colonies lodged between teeth, inaccessible to toothbrush bristles. This prevents the development of cavities and gum diseases, reducing the overall microbial burden in the mouth.
Brushing teeth, especially before sleep, is pivotal for removing plaque and bacteria accumulated throughout the day. This practice helps mitigate the translocation of harmful bacteria into the bloodstream.
However, the real magic happens when flossing and brushing are combined – studies have shown9 that individuals who diligently adhere to both practices tend to live longer, with a 36% reduction in premature death.
The Harmful Side of Mouthwash
While mouthwash may seem like a quick fix for bad breath, it comes with a caveat. The Leisure World Cohort Study that showed reduced premature death from evening tooth brushing and flossing showed no benefit from using mouthwash.10 This is likely because commercial mouthwashes often contain antibacterial agents that indiscriminately kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria in the mouth. This imbalance disrupts the natural ecosystem of the oral microbiome, where beneficial bacteria play a critical role in preventing the overgrowth of harmful strains.
Tongue Scraping and the Morning Ritual
Tongue scraping, though not a transformative practice, can temporarily reduce the bacterial load on the tongue’s surface, leading to fresher breath. Incorporating tongue scraping into a morning routine may provide a short-term benefit, complementing other oral hygiene practices.
Complete Care with Electric Toothbrushes
Newer electric toothbrushes provide significant benefits over manual toothbrushes. The smaller motion makes it easier to clean teeth, and electric toothbrushes feature a timer that helps to spend the full, recommended two minutes brushing your teeth.
The two major brands are Oral B and Sonicare. It’s challenging to find a study proving which is better since both brands fund studies that say they are better than the other. Having used both, I prefer the Sonicare toothbrushes for smaller, longer-lasting battery and better brush longevity. (We’re all about longevity here at unaging.com!)
The Evolution of Oral Hygiene: Water Piks
The water pik, a relatively new addition to oral care, shows promise in maintaining oral health. Directing a pressurized stream of water between teeth and below the gumline reduces the pocket depth between the teeth and gums, aiding in the prevention of gum diseases.
Like flossing, using a water pik takes practice. Be warned that the first few times using a water pik may feel more like a free-for-all squirt gun fight than dental care.
Although long-term studies on its impact on premature death are lacking, the water pik’s ability to target deeper below the gum line where flossing can’t reach makes it an excellent addition to the oral hygiene kit.
Getting feedback is critical to improvement, and an annual visit to a dentist is essential to ensure your oral care achieves the results you want. The Leisure World Cohort Study found that seeing a dentist at least once a year gave a further 28% reduction in premature death.11
Perfect Routine for Optimal Dental Health
Maintaining a consistent and effective oral hygiene routine is vital to promoting overall health and well-being. By adopting a well-balanced approach that addresses morning and evening practices, you can ensure the health of your teeth, gums, and even your body.
1. Morning Routine
Begin your day by investing in your oral health. Start with a water pik to dislodge food particles and plaque from hard-to-reach areas between your teeth and below the gum line. This step aids in reducing the risk of gum disease. Following the water pik, proceed to brush your teeth using a fluoride toothpaste. Brushing for at least two minutes helps remove surface stains, bacteria, and plaque that may have accumulated overnight.
For fresher breath during the day, tongue scraping is the next step in your morning routine. Gently scraping your tongue helps eliminate odor-causing bacteria.
2. Evening Routine
As the day winds down, it’s time to give your oral health another round of attention. Begin by flossing. Flossing removes debris and plaque between your teeth and along the gumline, areas that brushing alone can’t effectively reach. This step is crucial in preventing cavities and gum disease.
After flossing, proceed to brush your teeth once more. Brushing before bed clears away the accumulated food particles and bacteria from throughout the day. Remember to use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a fluoride toothpaste for maximum effectiveness.
The oral microbiome’s influence stretches beyond cosmetic concerns, making it a crucial aspect of overall health. Mouth bacteria contribute to bad breath, inflammation, and cavities, and their systemic effects can reach the cardiovascular system, pregnancy outcomes, respiratory health, and even arthritis.
Incorporating consistent oral hygiene practices such as flossing, brushing, tongue scraping, and possibly using a water pik can contribute to oral and systemic wellness. Individuals can journey toward a healthier, happier life by recognizing the intricate relationship between oral health and overall longevity.