Get to Know Your Oral Microbiome

Woman magnifying her teeth

A microbiome is a community of microorganisms that live in a certain location, particularly inside the human body. The microbiomes of our mouths are filled with hundreds of different types of bacteria, and contrary to what you might expect, most of them are not harmful.

Over 700 different strains of bacteria have been found in the human mouth, but most people only have 34 to 72 different strains in their mouths at any given time. As mentioned above, most of those bacteria appear to be harmless. In fact, some of them are actually beneficial to your health. For example, a category of bacteria called probiotics actually help you start digesting your food.

When it comes to harmful bacteria, there are two main bad guys. Streptococcus mutans is the most notorious and well-known because it’s the one that causes tooth decay. If you don’t brush and floss properly, it’s like giving Streptococcus mutans an all-you-can-eat buffet of food debris that they will digest and excrete as acid that eats away at your teeth, causing cavities.

The other bacteria to watch out for is Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is usually not present in a healthy mouth. This bacteria only shows up when a patient has gum disease or the beginning stages of it, called gingivitis. The pockets of infection under the gums and in the jawbone usually include Porphyromonas gingivalis. If not treated and managed, gum disease will progress and can eventually cause tooth loss.

Put simply, the purpose of oral hygiene isn’t to rid your mouth of bacteria, it’s to maintain a balance so that good bacteria can thrive while bad ones don’t. The first step to maintaining this balance is to eat well by minimizing the amount of simple sugars and carbohydrates you eat. Brushing and flossing everyday removes the debris from the food you eat, thereby reducing the fuel that bacteria might use to reproduce and overpopulate your microbiome.

Your oral hygiene goal should never be to completely disinfect your mouth, but to keep the good bacteria while discouraging the bad ones. If you have any concerns about whether the oral hygiene is throwing your microbiome out of balance, we are happy to make recommendations.