“The mouth is the door of evil.” So said Euripides, the ancient Greek playwright of tragedy. If he were a modern-day nutritionist, it could be an observation on the very bad stuff people put in their mouths as food. Mother Teresa, however, acknowledged the mouth’s ability to do good. “Kind words can be short and easy to speak,” she said, “but their echoes are truly endless.” So, is your mouth a place of good or evil?
Nourishment and communication are two functions of the mouth. On the outside, a smile is a beautiful signal of happiness. But inside the mouth, there exists a complex ecosystem of friends and enemies.
The mouth is home to an extraordinary community of more than 700 species of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. Some of them are “good” because they play an important role in maintaining oral health. Streptococcus salivarius is an example. This bacterium helps metabolize sugar and keeps the mouth from getting too acidic. The saliva in your mouth also contains antimicrobial enzymes and proteins that protect the teeth and gums.
But other microorganisms are “bad”, like Streptococcus mutans, which are cavity causers, converting sugars into acids that attack your teeth. Bacteria love to feast on food that gets stuck between teeth after you eat. When they break down the food, smelly gases can result, otherwise known as bad breath. When conditions are out of balance, gum disease can set in. Bad oral health can also be an indication of more serious trouble occurring in the cardiovascular system.
What can you do to prevent trouble? Always study history. The importance of a healthy mouth is not a recent discovery. The Chinese were using toothbrushes before the 7th century and ancient Egyptians documented treatments for toothaches many centuries earlier. Today, if you are not using a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss to remove food between teeth after meals, you are out of touch with one of the easiest ways to maintain good general health, not to mention your teeth.
But there’s another tool to consider. Usually associated with gut health, probiotics have long been celebrated for their role in maintaining a harmonious balance in our digestive system. However, what’s less known is the potential of oral probiotics in promoting overall health.
Probiotics are made up of those friendly bacteria. Research has shown that the regular use of oral probiotics can have a positive impact on oral health, and subsequently, our overall well-being.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers found that regular use of oral probiotics not only reduced bad breath but also improved low self-esteem. It makes sense that more pleasant breath means better social relationships and quality of life.
Several other clinical trials have examined the effects of oral probiotics on individuals with gingivitis, a common gum disease characterized by inflammation and bleeding gums. Participants who regularly consumed oral probiotics showed a significant reduction in gum inflammation and bleeding compared to those who did not.
The connection between oral health and heart health is a subject of growing interest among researchers. A study of the relationship between oral probiotics and the risk of cardiovascular diseases found that individuals who incorporated oral probiotics into their daily routine experienced a reduction in risk factors for heart disease, including inflammation markers.
Should you rush out to buy oral probiotics at your local health food store? For some, it might be just what is needed to establish a “good” healthier mouth. Just as probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics can modify the microbiome of your gut, they can do the same in your mouth.