The Gut-Oral Axis: Discovering the Connection Between Your Oral & Gut Microbiomes and Chronic Illness
Recent statistics from the British Dental Association (BDA) have highlighted a concerning issue – in the pursuit of NHS dental care, individuals may only receive one annual check-up, with a staggering 3,000 patients for each dentist. Consequently, this leaves roughly one in four adults in England without essential dental attention.
You might be pondering the connection between dental care and your gut health. In my practice as a nutritional therapist, I've dedicated my efforts to exploring digestive well-being and gut health, staying abreast of the latest scientific research in these domains. Recent studies have unveiled an intriguing link known as the oral-gut axis, revealing how it influences not only gut symptoms but also various chronic illnesses and diseases.
The famous physician Hippocrates once asserted, "all disease begins in the gut." However, could it be that some diseases originate in the mouth, considering that it serves as the initial gateway to our gut for external elements such as food and other substances?
Oral health, often overlooked, is a mirror reflecting our overall health. Over time, I've observed an increasing number of clients who present with a plethora of unexplained symptoms. These symptoms don't seem to correlate with any discernible trigger.
These concerns aren't limited to gut issues; clients complain of headaches, fatigue, low mood, brain fog, and unexplained joint discomfort. Despite consulting with their general practitioners and undergoing numerous tests, everything often returns as "normal," leaving them bewildered and uncertain about their path to recovery.
Using a functional medicine approach, I delve into a client's personal and medical history to uncover underlying factors contributing to their symptoms. I explore the health of their mouth and the oral-gut axis, the connection between the mouth and the gastrointestinal tract where microbes, nutrients, and the immune system collaborate to maintain our health.
While the microbiome is often associated with the gut, the mouth houses one of the body's largest microbiomes. Trillions of bacteria within the oral microbiome create a protective barrier for our teeth, aid in food digestion, and participate in immune system functions, shielding us from pathogens and harmful substances.
Just like the gut, an altered oral microbiome with an overabundance of pathogenic bacteria can lead to issues in the mouth, gut, and elsewhere in the body – a condition known as oral dysbiosis.
Oral dysbiosis can contribute to various illnesses, including:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other gut-related conditions.
Heart disease and stroke.
Mental health disorders.
Neuroinflammatory diseases like Alzheimer's.
A 2021 study found that specific bacteria, typically found in the mouth, had migrated to the gut in individuals with some of the aforementioned conditions. This migration of oral pathogenic bacteria triggered gut dysbiosis, resulting in inflammation, compromised gut barrier function, and a weakened immune system, ultimately leading to systemic disease.
Some common pathogenic bacteria associated with oral dysbiosis include fusobacterium nucleatum, streptococcus mutans, and porphyromonas gingivalis.
By utilising functional medicine labs, I can perform stool and oral microbiome testing to identify the bacterial species inhabiting a client's microbiomes. This insight helps pinpoint the causes of their symptoms and allows for targeted therapy.
Treatment often involves a combination of dietary adjustments, assessment of essential nutrients for a healthy mouth and gut, and the use of supplements like antimicrobials, probiotics, or other therapeutic nutraceuticals.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial for a healthy mouth and oral microbiome. Ideally, regular check-ups with your dentist and hygienist are recommended. However, taking charge of your oral hygiene and addressing lifestyle factors can also promote oral health.
Factors that can increase the risk of oral dysbiosis
Poor oral hygiene.
High consumption of sugars, acidic, and processed foods.
Low fluid intake.
Underlying illnesses such as diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease, autoimmune or inflammatory disorders, eating disorders, or dry mouth syndrome.
Smoking, vaping, or excessive alcohol consumption.
Stress and mental health disorders.
Dental prosthetics like braces, dentures, or retainers.
Top tips for maintaining oral hygiene
Brush your teeth twice daily and floss daily.
Use fluoride toothpaste.
Consider using probiotic toothpaste and/or mouthwash regularly.
Explore oil pulling (instructions are available online).
Stay adequately hydrated.
Chew your food thoroughly.
Consume a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats, while minimizing sugary, processed, and acidic foods.
Avoid smoking and vaping, and limit alcohol intake.
Manage stress to prevent teeth grinding.
Most importantly, make regular visits to your dentist and hygienist.
Remember, caring for your oral microbiome translates to caring for your overall health. Maintain your oral hygiene for a radiant smile and a healthy gut!