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How often do you think about your oral health? Well, it turns out the health of your mouth could be influencing the way you think.
It’s tempting to think oral health is only important to preserve a white smile and avoid gum disease. But have you ever connected oral health with your overall health and wellbeing, and in particular, your brain health?
It’s all down to the bacteria living in your mouth. Read on to find out more about the link between your oral health and your brain.
Your mouth harbours trillions of bacteria, some positive to your health and some of them harmful. They live on your teeth, gums, tongue and cheeks. This oral microbiome forms an ecosystem of microorganisms co-existing within you in a similar way to the microbiome in your gut.
Bacteria in your oral microbiome are similar but not the same as the species living in your gut. You want a good level of friendly bacteria, because if pathogenic bacteria dominate, they can produce damaging acids when they feed on carbohydrates. These acids weaken tooth enamel and may cause cavities. Unfriendly bacteria create inflammation, too, leading to gum disease and bad breath.
Your mouth is the gateway to your gastrointestinal tract and ultimately to the rest of your body. Bacteria in your mouth can easily travel down to your gut when you swallow saliva, as well as hitching a ride with food and drinks. Then they can influence the makeup of your gut microbiome. Bacteria living in your mouth can also easily migrate around your body via your bloodstream when you chew, brush your teeth or floss.
The first hint these bacteria might affect other organs was when scientists noticed people with poor dental health tended to have heart issues. Gum disease, caused by a bacterial imbalance in the mouth, has been linked with heart attacks, atrial fibrillation and inflammation of the heart valves.
Since then, poor bacterial balance in the mouth has been linked with wider health issues including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and even obesity.
One area in which oral health is thought to have a major influence is on brain health. This makes sense as your mouth and brain are in close proximity. If pathogenic bacteria enter your brain, low levels of inflammation will rumble on there.
Poor dental health and tooth loss have been linked with cognitive decline 1. This has prompted scientists to examine the types of bacteria involved.
They discovered certain unfriendly bacteria found in the mouth specifically linked with poor brain health. One, P gingivalis, is the number one bacterial culprit when it comes to gum disease. It’s relatively tolerant of acid, so it can more easily survive the acid conditions of the stomach and so reach the intestines. But it’s also been found in the brain and has been implicated in the formation of misfolded proteins there, a key risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. It seems this bacterium produces substances which damage a protein in the brain called tau. This protein normally helps keep brain cells healthy.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by inflammation in the brain. Research has linked another pathogenic oral bacterium F nucleatum, known for its role in gum disease, to the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease 2.
No one part of your body operates in isolation because they’re all closely connected. So it’s crucial to look at your body as a whole and discover the imbalances at the root of disease, so they can be put right. Your oral health may be contributing to seemingly unconnected health issues.
An in-depth consultation will explore your health and symptom history and shed light on how your nutrient status and lifestyle are impacting your health. However, functional tests can be really useful to pinpoint exactly where things are going wrong. A simple non-invasive test of your saliva can determine what types of bacteria are prevalent in your mouth and whether they are contributing to your symptoms.
Would you like natural support for your oral health? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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