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Oral bacteria and your body’s balance

March 1, 2016

As a child, you were probably taught that you needed to brush your teeth to remove all of the nasty bacteria from your mouth. It would cause cavities! Well, it turns out that common knowledge about bacteria was only partially true.

You were likely taught that brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouth wash was the only way to remove harmful bacteria from your mouth. You may have come to understand bacteria as a problem, a source of disease or poor health, and something that must be restricted and removedThe unfortunate side effect of this common belief is that we fail to recognize the good, helpful, healthy, and useful ways bacteria contribute to total body health.

As scientists have worked to understand the obesity epidemic and improve nutrition and weight loss science, they have recently discovered that gut bacteria have a profound impact on digestion, food, vitamin, and mineral absorption, as well as metabolism. Thus, your weight might be the result of calories in versus calories out, but what happens to the calories consumed and how they’re metabolized may be much more complex than we knew. While historical dieting advice has been linked to food restriction and calorie reduction, new research into bacteria indicates that metabolism and body weight are more complex than researchers knew just a few years ago.

Like the gut, the mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria. While we’ve often considered this a problem, it turns out the relationship between humans and their bacteria is remarkably complex. A study by the Forsyth Institute takes a look at bacteria in the mouth and how they grow. Most importantly, the new look at oral bacteria can map how bacterial colonies grow and how different forms of bacteria interact with one another.

Through new imaging techniques, we can see how bacterial colonies grow on the teeth. The bacteria in the mouth organize in specific patterns and form structures. Because of the shape the bacteria take, the structures are referred to as “hedgehogs.” Within the hedgehogs, it was determined that bacteria take on different roles within a bacterial community’s structure.

Two factors were essential in the published research:

  • Fluorescence: fluorescence was important for determining the shapes these bacterial colonies take. Fluorescence can help scientists visualize the placement of bacteria, but it doesn’t reveal which types of bacteria were present or how the different types interacted with one another.
  • DNA sequencing: Once the colonies were visible through fluorescence, DNA sequencing allowed scientists to see the kinds of bacteria that were living adjacent to one another and how they functioned together symbiotically.

With bacterial colony shapes revealed through fluorescence and bacterial colony relationships defined through DNA sequencing, scientists can begin to determine what it is, specifically, that these colonies are doing to contribute to or detract of a patient’s oral health overall. Bacteria in abundance can contribute to the formation of plaque and lead to tooth decay and cavities. We don’t know, however, whether certain small amounts are ideal or if certain types of bacteria are beneficial while others are more harmful. Learning the function and outcome of these hedgehog colonies would allow dentists to target bacteria more specifically both during exams and with more targeted home care. Oral care products, for example, could be manufactured to encourage the protection of some bacteria while destroying other, harmful strains.

In the meantime, your at-home oral care regimen should remain the same: brush twice daily, floss daily, use mouthwash as needed, and support your teeth with a healthy diet. Avoid smoking, sugary snacks and drinks, and attend your regular dental cleaning appointments. If you have any missing or damaged teeth, see Dr. Tindal for prosthodontic repair options.

If you’re unsure whether your bacterial profile is contributing to or diminishing your oral health, your mouth probably reveals everything you need to know by the condition of your teeth and gums. When bacterial balance is out of sync, you will experience gum disease and diminished oral health. Even in those cases, Dr. Tindal can help restore natural tooth function with natural, augmented, or implanted teeth. Contact the team at Tindal Smiles for your initial consultation appointment.

Reference: Forsyth Institute. (2016, January 28). Scientists map mouth microbes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2016 from

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