Bacteria is a huge part of the oral microbiome — also known as the mouth’s ecosystem. How many of these germs are in your mouth? A single mouth can be home to more than 6 billion bacteria. While that number may raise an eyebrow, getting to know the organisms that live behind your lips will help you manage your oral health more effectively.
Can Bacteria in Your Mouth Make You Sick?
Oral bacteria live in diverse communities, where they go about the business of life — being born, working, feeding, defecating, mating, and dying. Yes, all this is happening right now in your mouth. And like most communities, your mouth has safe neighborhoods and scary ones. Some groups comprise pathogenic bacteria that cause tooth decay, gum inflammation, and tooth loss.
One example of bad bacteria is Streptococcus mutans, which feeds on sugar and starchy carbs and then produces acids that erode your tooth enamel. It’s also one of the main causes of tooth decay and other oral diseases. Porphyromonas gingivalis isn’t a regular resident of your mouth, but shows up when gums are diseased (periodontitis). If left untreated, it can destroy gum tissue and the alveolar bone that supports your teeth.
However, there are also nice microbes. Lactobacilli, probiotics often found in yogurt and fermented foods, can fight off harmful bacteria and possibly restore a health balance in your mouth.
Facts About Mouth Bacteria: What You Need to Know
If you’re looking for a quick rundown of oral bacteria, here are some important facts you need to know:
- Over 6 billion bacteria live inside your mouth.
- There are approximately 700 different species of bacteria.
- While there are bad types of bacteria that can cause problems like tooth decay and gum disease, there are also good types of bacteria that keep these bad microbes in check. They can also help you digest food and protect you against harmful microbes in food.
- Saliva may help remove harmful bacteria from your mouth because it makes it harder for bacteria to stick to your teeth’s surface.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, about 23% of children between the ages of 1 and 5 have tooth decay. They suggest that acid-producing bacteria overpowers the presence of good bacteria.
- Some foods might help flush out bacteria. Vegetables like carrots and celery can stimulate the gums, while fruits such as
- The tongue holds a considerable amount of bacteria, so it’s important to clean your tongue with a plastic or metal tongue scraper.
Taking Care of Your Mouth
Thankfully, teeth and your entire mouth can typically be kept healthy and happy with good oral hygiene. Ask your dentist for advice on managing your mouth. In general, though, dentists advise:
Skip or limit your intake of simple carbohydrates like foods made with white flour and sugar. Those bacteria in your mouth love to snack on sweets and carbs. Carb-fueled bacteria multiply super-fast and cling to each other, creating a biofilm commonly referred to as plaque. Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental diseases because bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay.
You’ll also want to limit acidic foods and beverages such as soda, citrus juices, energy drinks, and wine. Sugary acidic drinks such as citrus juice and citrus-flavored sodas can cause double the dental damage, so be especially vigilant about how often you indulge in them.
Try to rinse your mouth with water after drinking acidic liquids. Acidic foods and drinks can soften the enamel on your teeth, which can progress to the dentin and cause decay. Hold off on brushing for about an hour after eating acidic foods to avoid damaging enamel.
Dental hygienists advise brushing for three minutes with a soft brush. Replace the brush every three months – or sooner if the bristles are worn, bent, or frayed. Also, replace your toothbrush if you’ve just recovered from a cold, the flu, or another ailment. Germs like to lurk in the brush bristles.
You may want to talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about electronic toothbrushes or the newer brushes that use ultrasound to destroy bad bacteria and debris.
Dry mouth also puts teeth at increased risk for erosion, as a healthy saliva flow helps protect teeth from exposure to acid. Drink water, and if you’re still feeling parched, try rinsing your mouth with a product designed for dry mouth care, and chewing sugarless gum.
Visiting Your Dentist and Hygienist Regularly
No matter how devoted you are to at-home care, regular exams and professional teeth cleanings are critical. Checkups involve more than a quick peek at your teeth – your dentist will screen you for oral cancer, tooth decay, and gum disease. These conditions are far easier to manage if caught early.
Even people who are dedicated to good oral hygiene will inevitably miss a bit of plaque here and there, which can harden into tartar. Removing tartar is not something you can do at home without risking the chance that you’ll cause more dental damage with scraping and abrasive toothpaste. Your hygienist will safely clean hardened dental plaque and remove any trapped debris.
Final Thoughts on Mouth Bacteria and Oral Health
Understanding how bacteria works in your mouth shows why you should practice good oral hygiene, maintain a balanced diet, and visit your dentist regularly. If you’ve been skipping regular checkups and cleanings due to budget concerns or having no dental insurance, consider learning more about dental savings plans.
With a dental savings plan, plan members can save 10-60% on most dental procedures. Reach out to us at 1-833-735-0399 if you have any questions about how a dental savings plan can help provide access to quality, affordable dental care.