What do heart disease, mouth-wash and the way you were born all have in common? The answer is this:

the living microbiome that is your mouth.

In other words, you mouth is a living world on it’s own that is different and unique to any other part of the body, with various types of organisms living together in one space. Kind of like Jurassic park – just on a microscopic scale. As we are busy with a series on the Gastro-Intestinal Tract (GIT) and how that affects your health, it is important for us to start at the very beginning (because, as Julie Andrews said in The Sound of Music, that’s a very good place to start).

In this case, the starting point for all digestion – and as such, also your overall health – is your mouth. Professionals have long been aware of the correlation between poor oral health and cardiac disease, but as science progresses, research turns up more evidence that suggests a direct link between poor oral health and systemic diseases. This refers to diseases or illnesses (or issues) that affect the whole body, such as hypertension (also known as high blood pressure). I use the words “oral health” instead of “oral hygiene” on purpose, because they do actually mean two different things. Oral health refers to a healthy microbiome, which leads to healthy oral structures, and a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the micro-organisms in the intestinal tract. If we are using the Jurassic park analogy again, this would mean a place where all the dinosaurs live together in balance, and each dinosaur benefits from this balance, as does the entire environment. Oral hygiene, by contrast, refers to the cleaning of oral structures and eliminating bacteria and germs. So, for example,

mouth wash being the meteor that wipes out the dinosaurs…

on a recurrent basis. To summarise – one refers to the balanced functioning of our mouth, whilst the other refers simply to how clean it is. There is a clear movement to understanding how important a health gut biome is, and it has now been linked to weight control, improved mental health issues and even such massive declines in cognitive health as dementia. What we often fail to realise is that there is a 45% overlap of the bacterial population between your mouth and your colon. And just like the microbiome in the colon, the microbiome in the mouth should also be protected, maintained and nurtured. Most of us have been brought up with the idea that all bacteria are bad. But, did you know that there are more than 700 different types of bacteria living in your mouth, and – wait for it – they are actually supposed to be there. You read that right.

That then also mean that

you swallow about a trillion bacteria organisms everyday

– and that is as it should be, and is ultimately a good thing. If that thought made you gag or squirm just a little, don’t run for your mouth-wash just yet. Scientists have found that babies born through normal vaginal birth (as opposed to C-section births) presented with a greater variety of good bacteria and a healthier oral microbiome. Seems like a nasty thought, doesn’t it? But it’s actually a good thing for your health because these bacteria are actually needed for the proper functioning of your digestive system – that means, some bacteria are needed for your to actually get the most out of your meals. Don’t grab the mouth-wash just yet – keep reading! So, what does all this bacteria-talk really mean practically for you and me? Well, it means that your oral health might just be the canary in the coal mine for the rest of your body: a good indication of what’s happening, whether you should be concerned, or whether everything is going really well.

Cavities, general tooth decay and gum disease are not necessarily problems limited to, and caused by, bad bacteria in your mouth, but instead can indicate the existence of bigger, more serious health issues altogether.e digestion. Coincidence? I think not! Now that you know a little more, you can also imagine that many aches and pains (from toothaches to heart disease) can actually originate in your mouth… let’s take care of those chompers!

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