The connection between oral health and gut health

The link between oral health and overall wellness is well studied and recognized. Yet one underestimated point is the connection between oral health and gut health. Recent studies show an interdependence between the health of our mouth and gut, each affecting the other in unexpected ways.

Oral health, gut health, and microbiomes

To appreciate the impact of oral and gut health on your overall health, you first need to understand microbiomes.

The National Human Genome Research Institute defines the microbiome as “the community of microorganisms (such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses) that exists in a particular environment. In humans, the term is often used to describe the microorganisms that live in or on a particular part of the body, such as the skin or gastrointestinal tract.”

Your body is full of microbiomes. According to an article from Science Focus, “In any human body there are around 30 trillion human cells, but our microbiome is an estimated 39 trillion microbial cells including bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and in us.”

These microbial cells inhabit nearly all parts of your body, from your armpits to your feet. The areas that have the largest numbers of microbial cells are the oral and gut microbiomes. 

Understanding the oral microbiome

The oral cavity is home to a diverse ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms collectively known as the oral microbiome. These microorganisms play crucial roles in maintaining oral and overall health by aiding digestion, protecting against harmful pathogens, contributing to immune system function, and more.

Understanding the gut microbiome

Like the oral microbiome, the gut harbors trillions of microorganisms. They form the gut microbiome, which affects digestion, metabolism, immune function, and protection from pathogens.

The balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut is essential for gut health, with disruptions linked to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic gut infections, allergies, diabetes, and more.

The connection between oral health and gut health

Now that you’re familiar with the oral and gut microbiomes individually, it’s time to dive into the connections between them.

Research suggests that the mouth and gut microbiomes talk to each other. They do this through a complex network called the oral-gut axis. This bidirectional communication occurs via various pathways, including the bloodstream, saliva, and the gut-brain axis, which connects the gut and the central nervous system.

According to a study from the journal Cancers, “it has been reported that oral and gut microbiomes interdependently regulate physiological functions and pathological processes. Oral-to-gut and gut-to-oral microbial transmissions can shape and/or reshape the microbial ecosystem in both habitats, eventually modulating pathogenesis of disease.”

In simple terms, these findings suggest that the germs in both the mouth and gut influence each other. This leads to a shared exchange between the two, which can have significant implications for the development and progression of diseases.

Uneven bacterial transmission has a big impact on overall health

Logic would suggest that the oral and gut microbiomes have equal influence. However, a study from the Amsterdam University Medical Center suggests that “bacteria are transmitted from the oral environment to the gut far more often than was previously thought.”

Basically, the research shows that the oral microbiome has a bigger influence over the gut microbiome, not the other way around. It suggests that the health of your oral microbiome has a more significant impact on your gut health and risk of other medical conditions than previously thought. 

Impact on systemic health

The connection between oral and gut health extends beyond the digestive system. Research has shown that an imbalance in the oral microbiome can lead to oral and medical health problems.

According to the study from the journal Cancers, “The oral microbiome can affect systemic health conditions, not limited to the dental health.” This includes systemic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

The oral microbiome may influence systemic health more than thought. But gut health can also impact oral health.

Gut health has been found to play a role in the health of oral bones. Researchers from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that “certain gut bacteria trigger an immune response that leads to loss of the bone that anchors the teeth, akin to the bone loss that can result from periodontal (gum) disease.”

Promoting oral and gut health

Given the relationship between oral and gut health, maintaining a balanced microbiome in both is crucial for overall well-being. Here are some strategies to support both oral and gut health:

  • Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and probiotic-rich foods to nourish beneficial bacteria.
  • Practice good oral hygiene habits, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups to prevent oral health issues.
  • Minimize sugary and acidic foods and beverages, which can disrupt the oral microbiome and contribute to tooth decay.