Our teeth might sometimes seem like rocks or seashells—things which are “dead” and nonliving. However, our mouths are actually a very active and complex ecosystem of both good and bad bacteria. Understanding how these bacteria live, grow, and die can help us take care of our oral health and keep our teeth strong and healthy. Keep reading to learn more about oral bacteria, from our Hickory family dentist!
Scientists have a fancy name for your mouth’s ecosystem—they call it the “oral microbiome.” Inhabiting this microbiome is up to 700 species, or strains, of microbes, all living and depending on each other to survive. The number of bacteria in your mouth ranges greatly depending on your level of oral hygiene. People with excellent oral health may have as few as 32,000 microbes, or 1,000 per tooth; those with poor oral health or periodontal disease can have as many as 6 billion.
If all this is starting to sound icky, don’t worry: most oral bacteria are harmless, and some of them are even helpful to maintaining positive oral health. Streptococcus salivarius K12, for instance, has been shown to inhibit the bacteria which cause bad breath. A newly-identified strain of Streptococcus, currently called A12, has been shown to battle a particularly harmful bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which metabolizes sugar into tooth-destroying lactic acid. Because of findings like these, it may one day be possible for people to take a probiotic that helps control and prevent cavities, just as we currently take them to boost digestion.
The two biggest bacterial bullies in the mouth are Streptococcus mutans, described above, and Lactobacillus acidophilus, which also produces lactic acid. However, it’s important to understand that tooth decay can’t be stopped by eliminating a single type of bacteria. Microbes, including oral microbes, work in communities to help each other survive. Harmful bacteria work together to create a slimy, sticky material called a matrix. It’s this matrix that makes plaque so difficult to remove.
The good news is that controlling these harmful bacteria is pretty easy, provided you follow basic oral hygiene recommendations. Brushing your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste; flossing between your teeth; and coming in for regular dental exams and cleanings can all help to keep your oral microbiome balanced and healthy. Remember not to overdo it—if you were to, say, swish alcohol mouthwash every hour, you would end up killing your healthy bacteria which aid in saliva production, acid control and digestion.
If you want to keep your teeth healthy and safe, head over to Viewmont Family Dentistry in Hickory NC. Our Hickory dentist can’t wait to help you have a strong, beautiful smile for life! To schedule an appointment with our office, please click here.