Oral bacteria and your health

Most people are conditioned from childhood about the importance of removing bacteria from the mouth by brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouth wash. We 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.

In the study of weight and digestion, scientists have recently discovered that gut bacteria have a profound impact on digestion, food, vitamin, and mineral absorption, as well as metabolism. 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 even just a few years ago.

A recent study by the Forsyth Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory provides a detailed look at the 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. Never before have we been able to identify just how bacteria interact and how bacterial colonies grow, causing either disease or contributing to oral health. The new imaging technique will be used to study microbes in other parts of the body as well. Through these 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 depending on their placement within the community structure.

The fluorescence was important for determining the shapes these bacterial colonies take, but DNA sequencing was also important. Fluorescence alone didn’t help scientists determine which types of bacteria were present or how the different types interacted with one another. DNA sequencing allowed them to revel the kinds of bacteria that were living adjacent to one another and how they functioned together symbiotically. Finally, with those shapes and relationships sorted, 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.

The study “Biogeography of a human oral microbiome at the micron scale” provides and important next step in these discoveries and charts a course for continued research into optimal oral health and a higher standard of care as a result.  The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) will likely continue to publish research that explores this question related to oral bacterial colonies and their impact on oral health.

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 be sure not to skip your biannual cleaning appointments with Dr. Shields. Additional supports for healthy teeth and gums include foods high in calcium (milk, cheese, and no-sugar-added yogurts), which may aid in remineralization of teeth after decay has occurred.

If you’re unsure how to care for your teeth or whether your bacterial profile is contributing to or diminishing your oral health, contact Smiles by Shields to for an appointment. No matter how long it has been since your last cleaning, there’s no better time to get back on the road to oral health than now! No matter what shape your smile is in, there’s a treatment for you that can help you move toward the healthiest smile possible.

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


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