Why Your Gut Health Issues Could Be Starting With Your Mouth

Photo: Getty Images/ Westend61
When you think about keeping your gut happy and healthy, what comes to mind? Likely fermented foods and bone broth, maybe hydrating fruits like watermelon—but if we had to guess, we’d say the health of your mouth didn’t make the top of your list.

But it should, because here’s the thing: Your mouth is where you microbiome begins, and neglecting your oral health can actually be the cause of a number of gut issues. “Your mouth is a mirror for what’s going on in your gut and your body,” explains Gerry Curatola, DDS and author of The Mouth Body Connection. “What you do in your mouth can have profound effects on your gut microbiome, which is a close cousin to the oral microbiome. Your mouth goes one step further because it protects you from deadly viruses and bacteria.”

Want to understand more about how the oral microbiome works, and how it’s impacting your body? Read on for Dr. Curatola’s insights.

Bacteria in the mouth affects your gut
Photo: Getty Images/ AleksandarNakic

What you need to know about the oral microbiome

According to Dr. Curatola, the oral microbiome has a lot of similarities to the gut microbiome—and a few big big differences, too. The oral microbiome is extremely complex: "It's as unique as your thumbprint," and made up of 6-10 billion bacteria and 70-800 species, he says.

He adds, “The oral microbiome is this intelligent, semi-permeable membrane that brings oxygen to your gums and takes away waste products. For years, we made the mistake of trying to destroy the bacteria in our mouths. Now we know that these bacteria run us, we don’t run them."

Another thing we know now is that bacteria doesn’t just “run” us—if we allow it to do its job in our mouths, it’s actually really good for not only our oral microbiome, but our gut health. And when we take care of it, it promotes excellent overall long-term health. “My big mantra now is to learn to make peace with your microbiome,” says Dr. Curatola. “So when you eat, eat to feed it. Go for alkalizing, antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods.”

How to nurture your oral microbiome

Now that we know how important our oral microbiome is to overall gut health, what can we do to take of care it (other than eat the food types mentioned above?) Dr. Curatola created a vitamin- and prebiotic-rich toothpaste that’s made for nurturing the microbiome, because he’s pretty appalled by the bacteria-destroying, chemical-filled toothpastes on the market right now. (The chemical triclosan, in particular, wreaks havoc on your gut health.)

He notes that even when people are caring for their mouths with natural products—think oil pulling—they could still be damaging the microbiome. “We have to get out of the pesticide business, whether natural or synthetic,” Dr. Curatola says.

In terms of day-to-day care, Dr. Curatola recommends simply flossing and brushing (preferably with natural toothpaste) regularly. “When you promote microbial homeostasis, toothbrushing and dental floss is important for moving food and debris,” he says. “It’s very important to remove the excess debris that accumulates on your teeth from meals during the day.”

About those cleanings every six months...

If you’re someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy your twice-yearly visits to the dentist, here’s some news you might find interesting: How much those cleanings actually help the health of your mouth depends largely on the person.

In fact, the recommendation that people go to the dentist twice a year is pretty much...made up. “Some people naturally build up more plaque on their teeth, in which case it’s important to visit your dentist often,” explains Dr. Curatola. He adds that he has patients who are genetically predisposed to gum disease, and in that case he has them visit their dentist every 90 days. That’s because heart disease can actually begin in the gums—yet more proof that our mouths have a huge impact on the rest of the body. So, talk to your dentist about how often you should come in.

At the end of the day, the main thing Dr. Curatola wants people to take away about their oral microbiome is that bacteria in the mouth is not the enemy. “Bacteria are beneficial and vital,” he says. “What causes disease is an imbalance, not a bacteria. The biggest discovery I had as a dentist of 35 years is that the same bacteria that causes gum disease and tooth decay is actually beneficial at a balanced state.”

Here are 5 more rules to live by for a happy and healthy gut. And here's what happened one editor gave 3 at-home microbiome testing kits a try.

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