The mouth has become an important fashion item!  Nowadays, everyone is focused on cosmetics: straight teeth, white teeth, nice smile.  But the mouth plays a much more important role in your overall health.

Digestion starts in your mouth

Your mouth is where digestion starts. Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which breaks down starches in your food before it gets to your stomach.  Your teeth break down the food, making it easier for amylase to work and for the food to be digested further once in your stomach.  Swallowing your food without breaking it up, causes digestive problems later.

600 Bacterial species in your mouth

Your mouth naturally contains approximately 600 bacterial species.  Imbalances of these species has been linked to immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease and some gastrointestinal cancers.

Smoking supports disease causing bacteria

Now scientists have shown that smoking changes the balance between healthy and disease causing bacteria in the mouth[1].  Smokers had fewer species of Proteobacteria – responsible for breaking down toxins from smoking – than non-smokers.  They also had more species of streptococcus.  Streptococcus bacteria can cause tooth decay.  Even when smokers’ mouths were cleaned[2], the disease causing bacteria returned quickly, whereas non-smokers developed a healthier mouth environment post cleaning.

Oral bacteria involved in certain types of stroke

Inflammation in the mouth and the presence of certain bacteria has also been linked to stroke.  A recent study[3] found that 26% of those who experienced an intracerebral hemorrhage tested positive for streptococcus mutans, whereas this figure was only 6% in other strokes.  They concluded that “oral bacteria are involved in several kinds of stroke, including brain hemorrhages and strokes that lead to dementia.”

Good oral health may slow cognitive decline

But it’s not all doom and gloom!  If you look after your oral hygiene and have regular dental check-ups, this may help in slowing cognitive decline.   The study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society[4] is not definitive, but shows a higher prevalence of inflammatory oral conditions with cognitive issues.

Mouthwashes can support bacterial balance

Herbal mouthwashes can help with bacterial balance.  A recent study[5] found that a mouthwash of Cymbopogon flexuosus, Thymus zygis and Rosmarinus officinalis had a positive effect on bacterial levels.

Or another good option is simply salt and water.  This wash temporarily increases the pH balance in your mouth, making it more alkaline.  Bacteria prefer acidic conditions.

Diet, stress, lifestyle

As always, however, it is better to take a holistic approach to oral health.  Look at your diet, pre- and probiotic balance, lifestyle and stress levels.  Reduce alcohol intake, avoid sugary drinks and food and don’t smoke.  All can positively or negatively effect the bacterial composition of your mouth and your digestion.  Don’t treat your mouth just as a cosmetic feature.  It is critical to your health, so take care of it!

If you would like a naturopathic consultation to support your oral health regime contact us at Fresh Perceptions Health, Dublin.  We will work with you to develop a health programme – including a herbal formulation which will help address your issue.  As always everything we do is based on diet, herbal solutions and common sense.

[1] Another reason to break the habit: Smoking alters bacterial balance in mouth.  Wu et al, The ISME Journal, 2016;

[2] P. S. Kumar et al. Tobacco Smoking Affects Bacterial Acquisition and Colonization in Oral Biofilms. Infection and Immunity, 2011; 79 (11): 4730 DOI:10.1128/IAI.05371-11.

[3] Tonomura et al. Intracerebral hemorrhage and deep microbleeds associated with cnm-positive Streptococcus mutans; a hospital cohort study. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 20074 DOI:10.1038/srep20074.

[4] Wu et al. Association Between Oral Health and Cognitive Status: A Systematic Review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 1, 2016 DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14036

[5] Falah Azad et al.  Adjunctive use of essential oils following scaling and root planing –a randomized clinical trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 201616:171 DOI: 10.1186/s12906-016-1117-x

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