Oral health is often overlooked when it comes to maintaining general health, but proper oral hygiene is closely linked to strong immune health. Within this blog, we’ll dive into the important role our mouths play in germ defense, the types of bacteria in our mouths and how they can impact our immune systems, how to optimize your oral health, and so much more.
Why does your mouth matter?
Our mouths are one of the first places germs can enter our bodies, which is why taking care of our oral health is so important. Your mouth is also one of our first defenses against disease because our oral cavity can act as a barrier between the outside world and our respiratory and digestive tracts. Many germs are “airborne,” meaning they can spread through droplets from an infected person sneezing, coughing, or even just talking, and then get into our mouths and noses to cause infection; our ability to fight these germs becomes critical to keeping the rest of our body healthy. Believe it or not, most of our immunity starts in our mouths.
What is included in our oral cavity?
We usually group many things into what we call your “mouth,” and depending on whom you ask, you’ll get many answers as to what comprises a mouth. In general, your oral cavity contains both soft and hard tissue, including everything from the tongue, teeth, gums, buccal mucosa (your cheeks on the inside of your mouth), soft and hard palate, uvula, tonsils/adenoids, and even the back part of your nasal passages that connect to your throat (nasopharynx). That is a lot! We also have salivary glands that open into our mouths and secrete things such as saliva and enzymes, which are a big part of our immunity and digestive systems.
How Our Mouths Act as a Barrier
Our mouths encounter both good and bad bacteria and come into contact with germs when we breathe in or eat, and we are constantly fighting the microorganisms that enter our bodies while preserving good bacteria that can actually help us. On average, there are about 700 different types of microorganisms in our mouths right now, with billions of bacteria circulating in our mouths daily. It is our bodies’ job to allow the good bacteria to stay while targeting the dangerous bacteria and attempting to get rid of them.
How Our Mouths Regulate Good and Bad Bacteria
- We have antibodies in our mucous that can decrease how much bacteria can grow and spread in our mouths.
- T lymphocyte cells exist in our mucous, and a deficiency of these cells can cause oral disease.
- Saliva contains enzymes that can help destroy bacteria or even block the growth of certain germs. It also can block plaque formation on our teeth by aiding in the growth of good bacteria that can help form a biofilm on our teeth.
- Tonsils and adenoids are part of our immune system and can help trap germs. So, if someone suffers from chronic infections or has things like cryptic tonsils (large pits in the tonsils that can trap food and other particles), then removing the tonsils may be more helpful than preserving them.
- Gums (gingiva, periodontium) shed cells regularly and can protect against germs sticking to these areas and growing. This area also has many blood vessels, which can carry much-needed white blood cells to the area to fight any infections.
What Can Bad Bacteria In Our Mouths Do?
Harmful microorganisms can lead to a variety of problems, which can include things like cavities (bacteria erodes our healthy tooth matter), periodontitis (also known as gum disease), bad breath, and yeast infections in the mouth (candidiasis). In addition, several germs can spread from our mouths to the rest of our bodies and cause dangerous infections that can affect our immune systems, respiratory tract, and the rest of our gastrointestinal tract, and—alarmingly—can even lead to cardiovascular disease. Mouth infections can enter your bloodstream and carry bacteria to other parts of your body. This can lead to several medical complications such as stroke, endocarditis (infection of the heart lining), or even growths on heart valves. Some studies have also linked disease in the mouth to premature births and low birth weights.
Signs of Poor Oral Health
Suppose your mouth is not as healthy as it could be. In that case, you may notice some of the following signs and symptoms: bleeding gums, rotting teeth, oral ulcers, bad breath, white discoloration on your tongue or other areas in your mouth, receding gums, dry mouth (also called xerostomia), inflamed and irritated gums that are swollen, or even pus on your tonsils (usually a sign of streptococcal infections aka “strep throat”). These are often some of the first signs of poor oral health. It’s easy for diseases that start in your mouth to spread to other areas of your body, which can cause more serious problems, including recurrent infections, heart and other vascular complications, along with other significant health issues that would manifest in lots of different symptoms past abnormal signs in your mouth.
How to Optimize Your Oral Health
Keeping your mouth clean and healthy is incredibly important in protecting your entire body from disease. We call this practice oral hygiene, and it is often the first step in preventing illness from spreading to the rest of your body. So, what can you do to maximize your oral hygiene? There are several recommendations from the American Dental Association and other organizations on optimizing your oral health. Following these important guidelines can be very helpful to your health:
- Brush your teeth two times a day and try to brush again after eating anything super sugary or sticky to prevent the breakdown of sugar and tooth decay.
- Use fluoride toothpaste (ask your dentist and doctor about the age requirement for this, as it is not recommended in very young people or others who are at risk of accidentally swallowing toothpaste in larger than recommended amounts).
- Avoid too firm of toothbrushes, as this can irritate gums and tooth enamel.
- Remember to brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper: tongues harbor SO MANY bacteria, yeast, or other microbes, so keeping your tongue as clean as possible is a must.
- Floss every day (regular floss is best, and if using a pick, it is still advised to use regular floss in addition to a manual or water pick so it can help remove biofilm/unwanted germs from teeth).
- Use a daily mouthwash, preferably anti-bacterial and alcohol-free, as alcohol can dry and irritate your mouth.
- Visit your dentist at least two times a year for routine care or more frequently if you have gum disease, diabetes, or other medical conditions predisposing you to unwanted mouth disease.
- Eat low-sugar foods to decrease tooth erosion. Bacteria also often thrive on sugar, so reducing this in your mouth can be very helpful.
- Avoid smoking, leading to gum disease, oral cancers, and other health concerns.
- Consider using an oral preventative product such as BioShell Germ Defense for Your Mouth since it contains Cetylpyridinium Chloride (CPC), which is known to fight and kill germs as well as treat and prevent infections in minor oral irritations.
- Get a bite-guard if you grind your teeth overnight to reduce pain from constant pressure and the risk of tooth fractures.
- Consume fluoridated water to help decrease cavities (this is in our water sources, so you do not usually need to add more, and checking with your local water sources can be very helpful).
- Avoid oral piercings to decrease the risk of tooth fracture and gum recession.
Advantages of Good Oral Health
In addition to fresh breath, a bright smile, and decreased need for expensive dental procedures by preventing problems before they begin, optimal oral hygiene can reduce the risk of infections, illnesses, and systemic diseases. So, remember, proactive oral hygiene helps your entire body, is a significant first step to improving your overall health, and helps maintain a strong immune system. As always, please consult your physician and dentist regarding your health needs.