Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Becca Malizia, MS, Hailey Motooka, BS, Ellen M. Martin
What if I told you you could decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Cardiovascular diseases, and various autoimmune diseases by investing in your oral well-being? Would you be interested?
Moving from oral health to oral well-being
Everyone knows what oral health is. It is a term used primarily in dental offices to encourage patients to brush and floss twice a day. The term you may not yet be familiar with is Oral well-being, a focus on improving oral health in order to improve your overall quality of life.
But how does this work?
Recent research has found numerous connections between the oral microbiome and overall health and disease. At least 50% of American adults suffer from gum disease. People with gum disease are 2x more likely to die from a heart attack and 3x more likely to die from a stroke. In addition, new studies show links between oral diseases and Alzheimer’s, as well as autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and others.
Expanding our approach to oral health by taking into account the millions of bacteria that inhabit our mouths could be the key to minimizing chronic disease risk. It is time to view oral well-being as a way to achieve better overall health.
So how can we improve oral well-being?
Similarly to the way mental well-being requires analysis and understanding of our own emotions and social interactions, oral well-being requires understanding microbes and the microscopic interactions that occur within our mouths.
That’s right, the oral cavity is home to more than 700 different species of bacteria, swimming in your saliva, clinging to your teeth, and chilling out on your tongue. Fungi and viruses also populate these oral ecosystems, but the research discovering, characterizing, and identifying these other microbial inhabitants is less advanced than the work on bacteria.
This conglomeration of microbiota is composed of bacteria (and other microbes) that can be categorized as: symbiotic (health-promoting), pathogenic (disease-inducing), or commensal (just along for the ride). A balanced equilibrium between symbiotic and pathogenic microbes in the oral cavity is indicative of good oral health. In contrast, imbalances favoring disease-causing bacteria may lead to oral problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.
The future of oral well-being
This concept of microbial balance and imbalance influencing oral health and disease is so new that it has opened the door for numerous startups looking to innovate within the oral care space on the consumer end. On the research end, advances in ‘omics studies (metabolomics, transcriptomics, genomics etc.) have now provided researchers and scientists with the technologies to better characterize microbiome profiles.
Now, companies such as Cosmos ID, only require users to send in a single cheek swab sample to identify the hundreds of bacterial, fungal, viral, and archaeal strains that inhabit their mouths, as well as their relative abundance and frequency. While the reference data to compare unhealthy oral microbiomes to healthy microbiomes is limited, the granularity of the oral microbiome profiling and comparison has the potential to be harnessed for future salivary diagnostics and biomarker testing for systemic diseases.
My hope is for a future where you visit your dentist to get preventative check ups for diseases outside the mouth! – DrBonnie360
But for now, as you wait for salivary diagnostics to replace blood tests and for dentists to diagnose systemic diseases, you can begin your journey to better oral well-being by being informed. Below are some resources you may find helpful:
- Oral Microbiome ebook
- 5 diet tips for a happy, healthy mouth
- How timing of eating, exercise, and mood can affect your mouth
- 3 tips to maintaining long-lasting oral health
Would you be interested in an oral well-being score or index so you can see how you rank?