Whenever I think of bacteria, I think of those super-magnified pictures we see of microscopic organisms that look like little bugs. I don’t like bugs of any size. Fortunately, I don’t have any such pictures to go along with my article, today, but if what I’m about to tell you creeps you out—even without the pictures—I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about that. The truth isn’t pretty.
There are between 10 and 15 billion (that’s ‘billion’ – with a ‘b’) bacteria from over 600 bacterial species present in your mouth at any given time. The variety, type, and amount of bacteria vary from person to person meaning no one person has the exact same bacterial conditions as someone else. Think of it as your own personal oral-bacterial fingerprint – now don’t you feel special?
Bad Mouth Bacteria
While there is good and bad bacteria, most bacteria in the mouth is considered harmful. It is when the good bacteria is overrun with bad bacteria that bad things like cavities, gum disease, periodontal disease, bad breath, and abscesses. The sides, tip, and top of the tongue, cheek, palette, teeth, and gums all carry a different variety of bacteria.
But, as we have seen in my article, “Gum Disease and Other Health Conditions,” bad dental bacteria have been found to adversely affect other organs and systems if the bacteria spreads. Neisseria (syphilis), treponema (gonorrhea), and Yersinia (associated with fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and implicated in reactive arthritis) are just some of the types of bacteria in your mouth. No one knows yet how the presence of these bacteria affects the development of other conditions.
A couple of mouth-specific bacteria have also been found in the plaque clogging arteries.
Good Mouth Bacteria
On the good side, scientists have discovered three types of bacteria that reside on the tongue that are believed to be responsible for fresh breath. It is also known that certain foods that stimulate saliva production (eg: cheese) can help fight the bad bacteria that causes cavities.
A study in Switzerland has found that bacteria in the saliva can enhance the aroma of fruits and vegetables making them taste better and the flavor last longer.
Keeping Bacterial Balance in your Mouth
A healthy mouth has bacteria that fights off the bad, that’s why it’s so important to maintain good oral hygiene practices to ensure a proper balance of good to bad bacteria. This includes flossing. Flossing breaks up bacterial colonies on the surface of normal teeth preventing tooth decay.
Certain sugary or starchy foods – known as fermentable carbohydrates – may break down in the mouth instead of later on down the digestive tract, and work with bacteria in the bad bacteria already present in your mouth to form an acid that will dissolve minerals in the enamel.
I’ve also mentioned before how important keeping a low alkalinity level in your mouth is essentially to depriving bad bacteria of the ideal environment in which they can thrive and destroy teeth.
As with most things, simple is often better and very effective at combating what seems to be a very complex issue. Keep brushing. Keep flossing. Keep rinsing. And keeping choosing foods and life style habits that with give the good bacteria a fighting chance.