In health and wellness communities everywhere the importance and understanding of the digestive system is becoming more clear every day. As the gastrointestinal tract has been studied, its interconnectedness with the entire body is ushering in a new understanding and appreciation for the relationship between the gut and the microbiota of the oral cavity. This new research is providing dentists and gastroenterologists new information they can provide their patients to promote whole body wellness.
What is the Gut?
The word gut is a widely accepted moniker of the gastrointestinal tract. The gut is responsible for moving food from your stomach through your intestines. As it does this it breaks down and absorbs all the nutrients from that food into your body to be used for cellular and tissue repair and function. It is an important body system that when working properly provides the body with all the nutrients it needs to function. While the gut technically starts in the stomach, it is important to think about your body as a whole. Food would not get to the stomach unless it were first broken down by the teeth in the mouth. Therefore we can think of the mouth and esophagus as the pre-gut and it is. When food reaches the stomach it is meat with digestive juices which are essentially acid and enzymes and microbiota that break masticated food into smaller pieces. There are millions of enzymes and bacteria that each have their own job when it comes to breaking down proteins, fats, sugars, and carbohydrates. From the stomach the food is moved to the small intestine where it begins to collude with the digestive system, the gallbladder, pancreas, and liver to further breakdown the food. Specific enzymes are secreted by the organs of the digestive system and those enzymes further break down food into its most basic form so the crude nutrients can be brought to specific areas of the body. After this the nutrients are moved to the large intestine for a final round of absorption and to the bowel where they exit the body.
The gut is important because it provides our bodies with everything except the oxygen it needs to function and thrive. By having teeth and gums compromised by decay and periodontal disease, you may not be getting nutrient-dense food to your gut where it can be distributed to the rest of your body. However, what is more dangerous to your gut are the harmful bacteria that lurk in the mouth.
Oral Microbiota and the Gut
It has been discovered that the harmful bacteria that resides in the mouth has been found in tumors throughout the body, and that these bacteria are are linked to many chronic inflammatory conditions It is easy to make the connection that these microbiota may make their way into the gut and wreak a considerable amount of havoc. Recently Chinese and French researchers have discovered that harmful oral microbiota were found in many patients with several gastrointestinal and digestive disorders. Specifically their study focused on cirrhosis of the liver. In looking for a less invasive way to test patients for cirrhosis than a liver biopsy they analyzed the microbiota of the gut. They found that patients with cirrhosis had extremely elevated levels of the same bacteria found in the mouth. While they cannot say that these oral bacteria caused the cirrhosis, seeing them in a sample is definitive enough proof for doctors to diagnose the disease. Harmful oral bacteria has also been documented in microbiome samples of people with colorectal cancer and Crohn’s disease. Researchers believe that because the liver is damaged by cirrhosis, it inhibits the body from stopping the mouth bacteria from migrating to, and taking over, the gut. With this new research, it may be possible for doctors to help diagnose and treat disorders of the gut with ease.
The whole body is interconnected which is why we at this Jacksonville, Florida dental practice believe wellness dentistry is so important. Managing the amount of bacteria in your mouth may have a profound effect on your overall health. If you have questions about how to best care for your teeth to keep the amount of bacteria at a minimum, ask Dr. Shields at your next appointment. She can teach you how to properly brush your teeth for two minutes twice each day and how to properly floss to remove all harmful bacteria that will prevent cavities, periodontal disease, and may even protect your gut.