We’ve all been guilty of it. You have a dental appointment tomorrow, and you’re madly brushing and flossing to stop your bleeding gums.
As a dentist, I see patients like this all the time. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, we can always tell! A dentist will take one look at your mouth and know whether you’ve been on top of your oral hygiene.
For a long-time it would bother me that patients didn’t floss (very few people keep their promises). But I soon learned that while flossing is one part of the picture, your gum health is closely connected to food. Now as a dentist who focuses on nutrition, my main point is to help my patients have a balanced oral and gut microbiome.
In fact, bleeding gums may even be a sign of your gut health. We now know that the oral systemic link is far more connected than we once thought. But remember food is key!
Your gut health and overall health
Not so long ago we began to understand how important gut health is. Today, researchers have found many links between gut bacteria and systemic disease. Your gut microbiome influences your digestion, immune system, metabolism and hormones. It even affects neurotransmitters that control mood and brain activity.
A fascinating application of this knowledge is the role of the mouth. The oral microbiome is closely designed to form the gut microbiome. In fact, its role is to create the gut microbiome.
An unborn child’s digestive system doesn’t contain microbes from the environment. These microbes are introduced as they move through the vaginal canal. After birth, oral and gut bacteria are influenced by breastfeeding.
A mother’s gut has special cells that send microbes to her mammary gland. Her breast milk delivers these probiotic bacteria straight to her baby’s mouth.
The baby’s oral bacteria then create the gut microbiome. These microbes shape the immune system. Throughout out our life, trillions more will be sent to their gut every time they swallow.
Don’t worry about ingesting microbes when you swallow! Your oral microbiome is a first line of defense. It protects your larger gut microbiome.
Bleeding gums is a sign of oral bacteria imbalance
What is bleeding gums telling you about your dental health?
Bleeding gums (gingivitis) can progress to gum (periodontal) disease.
In gum disease, your gums are chronically inflamed. As time passes, they begin to fall away from your teeth. The process is caused by harmful bacteria, feeding on proteins from gingival fluid. If this continues, immune cells begin to degrade the bone around your teeth.
Gum disease progresses differently in different people. For some, bleeding gums won’t progress into serious disease. Others see a rapid decline in their gum health.
This is because the immune system plays a big part in gum disease. Antibodies, formed in the gut are sent to deal with gum disease. Your gut dictate bacteria determine how your immune cells respond in the mouth. If your gut microbiome is healthy, your immune system should cope well. Bleeding gums is both a sign and driver of gut imbalance.
Bleeding gums connects to your gut
Gingivitis progresses to gum disease when harmful bacteria change the oral environment. Your oral microbiota loves to live in the pockets of your gums. It’s the safest place to build a comfy home - dental plaque (known as biofilm). The bacteria use plaque to shelter from the harsh conditions in your mouth. They’re in close contact with your immune system via the gum’s blood vessels.
When your gut is healthy, your bacteria are diverse and balanced. Friendly oral flora are present, working in tandem with your immune system. Probiotic bacteria in the digestive system compete with harmful bugs, preventing overgrowth and disease.
But when bacterial imbalance occurs in gum pockets, inflammation can occur. This can cause bleeding and growth of harmful bacteria. These microbes can then be swallowed into the gut.
The health of your gingival crevices is a snapshot of the health of your oral microbiome. And this is a snapshot of your gut health.
Healthy mouth healthy body
If your gums are bleeding, it may be a sign that you are at risk of gut imbalance. The first step is to see your dentist.
You can prevent bleeding gums by eating a healthy diet and practicing good oral hygiene.
Your gut will thank you!
Dr. Steven Lin is a practicing board accredited dentist, writer and speaker. As passionate health educator, Dr. Lin works to merge the fields of dental and nutritional science to show how the mouth is a crucial part of our overall health. As a TEDx speaker his work has been featured on influential health websites such as MindBodyGreen and About.com. Dr. Lin is now working on his own publication ‘The Dental Diet’ an exploration of how food is the foundation of oral health and how it connects to the body. Follow Dr. Lin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Main Photo Credit:Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/shutterstock.com; Second Photo credit: Voyagerix/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: botazsolti/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Image Point Fr/shutterstock.com