A Tiny World In Your Mouth: What Learning About The Dental Microbiome Could Do For Your Dental Health

The world of the microbiome is a strange and blindingly new place. With science in every area evolving at a rapid pace, it's easy to see why scientists are eager to dive into this new frontier and learn as much as possible. However, when looking at the mouth as a kind of microbiome, new questions (and new problems) can arise about the bacteria that outnumber human cells more than 10 to 1. If you're curious about the weird and wonderful biome happening right now in your mouth -- and what it has to do with keeping your teeth clean -- then here's what you need to know.

The Dental Microbiome

A microbiome is just a fancy name for the tiny world of microbes that exist in your body. While the body as a whole is a microbiome, technically, researchers and scientists alike prefer to break up the body into smaller, more manageable microbiomes -- like your gut microbiome, or, more pertinently, your dental microbiome. Your mouth is filled with all sorts of different types of bacteria, some that help your teeth (like those found in saliva) and somewhat hurt them (like plaque). There are over 400 different bacteria species in your mouth -- but what do they do, exactly?

Built-in Protection

For every nasty bit of plaque, you're sure to have a couple hundred defenders, ready to fight away the bad and keep your mouth healthy. Scientists calls these "probiotics" -- those microbes that help your body. As with probiotics in your gut, the probiotics in your mouth start breaking down and digesting food, sweeping harmful bugs away from your teeth.

But while scientists might not know exactly how far the effect of probiotics reach, they have yet to cause a single problem -- so indulge in that probiotic-filled Greek yogurt all you want; it certainly won't hurt things, though it probably won't cure a cavity.

A Map for Cavities

Dental cavities (formally called 'caries',) are more common in some people than in others. For the first time, scientists may have found a reason why some people are more predisposed to cavities than their neighbors: the contents of their dental biome. A hypothesis given for cavities is that they are caused by an imbalance in the dental microbiome -- that the 'good' bacteria are momentarily defeated by the 'bad' bacteria, which invade and start the decay of a tooth.

While still very new, there are tests circulating around the internet that will check the balance of your dental microbiome, attempting to alert you to possible problems before they even develop. (For information on how to care for your teeth in the meantime, contact Crest Hill Family Dental or another practice)