You may know that about one hundred trillion bacteria and other microorganisms live in your gut. In fact, more bacterial cells are in your gut than there are cells in the rest of your entire body. You might say that your gut is a jungle where good, bad and indifferent bacteria live, and often fight it out for your health. But know this: the bacteria living in your gut are essential to your digestion and overall health.
Take, for instance, probiotics. They’re living microorganisms that can support your gut’s balance of good and potentially harmful bacteria, can promote regular bowel function, support a healthy immune system and support normal absorption and assimilation of nutrients in the gut.† Simply put, probiotics can help you maintain a balanced, healthy internal environment.
Your mouth has its share of good, bad and indifferent bacteria, too—to the tune of 400-500 different microorganisms. A major unhealthy bacterium living in the mouth goes by the name of Streptococcus mutans—and it’s tenacious, too. It’s even been known to make its way to the membranes lining the cavities of the heart. It is surprisingly resistant and prolific.
Almost everyone carries this bacterium, which loves to stick to the surface of teeth, feeding on a variety of carbohydrates. While it is metabolizing its energy sources, this bacterium manufactures acid that makes for an unhealthy mouth environment, yet supplies the fuel it needs to proliferate.
Generally, the mouth’s ecosystem can maintain homeostasis, with each microbe staying in its assigned area. An increase in sugar consumption, however, can shift the mouth’s environment to become more hospitable to bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans.
Here’s why: when sugar—a staple of our modern meals and snacks—is eaten, the mouth has an overall pH drop. This creates an acidic environment where acid-loving and acid-producing bacteria like Streptococcus mutans can push out other bacteria and take over their territory. Unlike other mouth organisms, Streptococcus mutans thrives, dominates and increases in acidic conditions.
Streptococcus mutans likes to live on hard, non-shedding surfaces to establish its permanent home, but it can also colonize in the tongue crevices of infants—prior to their having teeth—and then establish a stronghold once teeth arrive. Streptococcus mutans can be passed to others, too. Its modes of transmission are vertical—from mother to child—and horizontal—from family members in the home environment or from others in places such as daycare centers.
One way is to support a healthy mouth is to limit the amount and frequency of sugar intake, since frequent sugary food intake keeps the mouth environment ripe for unhealthy bacteria. Like probiotics for the gut, probiotics for the mouth are available, too, delivering good bacteria that are essential for optimal oral health.† Oral probiotics can support gum and tooth health, while promoting, supporting and maintaining healthy and balanced microflora in the mouth.†
One thing’s for sure: when it comes to the jungle of bacteria in the body, it’s a good idea to watch your mouth.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.