Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
February 7, 2017
Don’t kill the bacteria in your mouth. Instead, feed them. Yes, mouth bacteria must be fed in ways that keep them healthy. Balanced, healthy bacteria are your friends – not your enemies.
I wrote an article about antibacterial mouthwashes and how they were harmful to the health of your mouth. Actually, antibacterial mouthwashes may increase the level of gum disease. That was a surprise to most people.
In this article, I want to look at the mouth bacteria from a different perspective. How can you improve the existing garden of bacteria in your mouth so that they maintain your dental health?
New knowledge is unfolding. It appears that the answer starts with healthy dental plaque. In fact, balanced dental plaque is important for the health of the gum tissue and the health of the tooth surface. When mouth bacteria are in healthy balance, they are said to be in a state of homeostasis. In this article, I discussed the different forms of dental plaque – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The chemistry of healthy dental plaque
To keep dental plaque in a healthy state, a relatively new study suggests a necessary chemistry that must be maintained. While this research is in an early stage, the chemistry appears like this:
Some mouth bacteria in healthy dental plaque produce hydrogen peroxide that keeps bad bacteria under control. As long as this process continues, dental plaque functions as a healthy film around the gum margin hugging the tooth. But, events can change.
One change could be the level of peroxide might decrease or be neutralized. If there was chronic inflammation that entered the area, the elements of inflammation could neutralize the peroxide, which in turn would cause bad bacteria to overgrow. Another change might be if levels of healthy bacteria were reduced.
So, the solution for healthy bacteria may come down to two important factors:
- Good mouth bacteria must continue to grow and produce healthy peroxide levels in dental plaque, preventing bad bacteria from overgrowing.
- The immune system must be supported to prevent chronic inflammation that could damage healthy dental plaque.
Feed the good bacteria
Healthy bacteria are screaming, “Feed me!” They need nourishment just as our 10 trillion human cells need nourishment. Modern humans have evolved over the course of 160,000 years or so. Our genetic code has become quite efficient in running the machine we call our human body. The natural food supply, physical movement, restful sleep, and avoidance of stressors on the body have contributed to our well-being.
Our microbiome, which is estimated to be as many as 100 trillion cells, must be fed. They are critical for our overall health, and their food source is primarily in the form of prebiotics.
Prebiotics are nondigestible nutrients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms. Some of the best natural food sources of prebiotics, which have been shown to improve the health of gut bacteria, include:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
- Allium vegetables such as garlic, onion, leeks, chives, and scallions
- Raw cacao
Recent research suggests that prebiotics might increase the growth of healthy bacteria in dental plaque. However, studies need to be performed that identify specific prebiotic foods that will enhance healthy bacteria in dental plaque.
Avoid chronic inflammation
If there was an irritant that was causing inflammation, it would need to be removed. A perfect example is dental tartar between the gum tissues and the tooth. Tartar actually acts like a splinter in the skin of your finger. If you wanted the skin of your finger to heal, you must first remove the irritant or the splinter. If dental tartar was irritating and causing inflammation in and under the gum tissues, dental tartar would need to be removed.
The next step might be to repair the damaged tissues of the gum and the tooth. Also, repairing and restoring the immune system would be critical to reduce and eliminate states of chronic inflammation. To get to that goal, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods need to be part of the picture.
Real food gets real results
Two examples of significant periodontal benefits from nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods were published by Dr. Baumgartner in 2009 and Dr. Woelber in 2016. Both studies showed that unprocessed foods would decrease harmful bacteria in the mouth and decrease specific signs of gum disease. The choices of food in these studies fed the good bacteria that supported dental health.
Bacteria are not your enemies if you keep them in balance. To keep them balanced, feed them properly and avoid chronic inflammation.