Why Understanding Our Oral Microbiome May Lie At The Centre Of Wellness

This article was contributed by Dr Martina Lavery, a dentist and aesthetic practitioner with more than 22 years of experience. Dr Martina’s philosophy of care is preventative in nature, and respects how the health of your mouth and oral microbiome is integral to your overall wellbeing. She takes a holistic approach providing services that manage dental health and facial aesthetics to promote better health all around.

I am continually fascinated by the science of wellbeing and strive to implement a wellness model of dental medicine rather than treating disease. Even as I write this article with the pandemic palpable, an unhealthy mouth makes you three times more likely to contract COVID-19. Crazy, right?!

It is an exciting time to be a practitioner in the wellness arena. I practice with a high focus on facial aesthetics, which aligns synergistically with cosmetic dentistry and body wellness, always respecting the connection between your mouth and body.

Aesthetically, injectables are fab for restoring volume, cosmeceuticals can transform skin and energy devices can tighten saggy jowls. But are you aware that your oral bacteria and their genes, the microbiome, may hold the key to ageing well, too?

Aesthetic ‘tweakments’ often polarise and are viewed as superficial procedures that only make you ‘look’ better. I disagree! Looking better leads to feeling better, complementing ageing well. Aesthetic practitioners cannot just fill a line and hope for the best. We must embrace achieving optimal results for our patients with a global approach to well-being.

Dr Martina Lavery

What is the oral microbiome, and why is it vital for you to optimise it for wellbeing?

The oral microbiome is a set of microorganisms and their genetic makeup unique to the mouth. They work synergistically to create balance. Health is a state of homeostasis.

When there is a disruption of numbers and diversity of bacteria in the microbiome, chaos occurs (a little like lockdown!), and disease manifests. I believe the goal of every ‘good’ practitioner, regardless of the system they care for, is to achieve homeostasis. As a dentist, my goal is to create an optimal oral microbiome for my patient. Just treating dental disease without an integrated approach is archaic, medieval dentistry.

Your mouth is the gatekeeper of your wellbeing. It is a critical barrier to the external world and has a significant protective role. Research on the gut microbiome is abundant. However, the importance of the oral microbiome has gained momentum recently.

So how do these organisms get into the body from the mouth?

They can enter the lungs or gut directly by swallowing and breathing, also indirectly via the bloodstream. When the mouth is unhealthy, the mucosal membrane skin on the inside mouth breaks down, impairing barrier function. The membrane becomes more permeable (think leaky gut; leaky mouth is similar).

The circulating bacteria creates inflammation, finding increased chronic pro-inflammatory markers in testing. The silver lining is we don’t have to accept our ancestral health as finite. We are in a position of power to improve our wellbeing.

We have a ‘core’ microbiome, a baseline assigned to each of us, and a ‘variable’ microbiome unique to us, like a fingerprint. You can control the ‘variable’ species by external factors such as improving diet, hydration, exercise and sleep. Yep, COVID actively changes your oral microbiome as you crawl from the fridge to couch surfing Netflix. 

Simple lifestyle changes can make such a difference to the microbiome improving your overall health. Of course, good oral hygiene practices such as brushing, flossing, seeing your dentist and reducing sugar have a massive role in achieving diversity and balance in the oral microbiome.

Those with high sugar diets have elevated numbers of Lactobacillus species which are opportunistic, disease-causing bacteria. High sugar consumption is proven to contribute to extrinsic ageing of the skin and body by glycation, accelerating disease processes in the body, coined ‘inflame-ageing’.

The oral-gut axis is the new frontier of health and wellbeing

There are several vital axes in the body, currently well documented, such as the skin-gut axis, the gut-brain axis, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In the coming decade, the oral-gut axis will be highlighted. Gut health and mental health have an established link. New evidence describing the homologous nature of oral and gut bacteria supports that the mouth is more entwined in wellbeing than ever thought.

The future of health and wellness in medicine and dentistry is in our genes. It is personalised health utilising DNA sequences, targeted biomarkers to diagnose, treat and strategies to create bespoke dental medicine. Tracking inflammatory markers found in the mouth, testing for inflammation in the bloodstream, sequencing collagen breakdown markers (CRP- C-reactive proteins) in gums and the gut will eventually become mainstream practice.

So, get moving and brush your teeth!


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