The Oral Microbiome: Why It’s Important and How to Care for It

A hot health topic today is the gut microbiome; many studies have linked the health of one’s gut to his or her propensity for disease and mood disorders.

A lesser-discussed but increasingly popular notion is that the mouth contains a special, perfectly balanced microbiome of its own. The oral microbiome consists of “the collective genomes of microorganisms that reside in the oral cavity . Many researchers believe that the characterisation of [the] oral microbiome is an essential step in understanding oral health and systemic diseases.” Thus, it is crucial to care for not only your gut microbiome but also your oral mircrobiome. How, you ask? Here are some suggestions…

Caring For Your Oral Microbiome

1. Ditch the commercial mouthwash.

Once I learned that popular mouthwashes by brands like Listerine and Oral-B kill off “good” oral microbiome bacteria and create a harmful uptick of “bad” bacteria, I said goodbye to my once beloved mouth washes and opted for a new routine. Now, I engage in a process called “oil pulling” 3-4 times per week. Oil pulling “is an age-old remedy rooted in Ayurvedic medicine that uses natural substances to clean and detoxify teeth and gums. It has the added effect of whitening teeth naturally and evidence even shows that it may be beneficial for gum health and that certain oils may help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth!” After reading an article on oil pulling by Ayurvedic expert Sahara Rose, I opted to use coconut oil. (Coconut oil is great because it possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties; I purchased this brand on Amazon.) At first, I began by swishing two tablespoons in my mouth for about five minutes. Even though the oil is tasteless, it took some getting used to. Now, I’ve worked up to 10-15 minutes several nights each week. The longer and more frequent, the better! (Disclaimer: Be sure not to spit the oil down the sink because it can clog your drain. Spitting it in a trash can is best.) Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that my teeth have gotten whiter and my digestion has improved. Saraha Rose explains the ability of oil pulling to boost digestion: “…digestion begins the moment food touches our lips. As we eat food, our tongues detect its micro- and macronutrients and tell our bodies what enzymes are necessary for digestion. If the surface of your tongue isn’t clean, it isn’t going to know what’s what in that 20-ingredient salad! If the tongue is unable to accurately dictate what we are consuming, as a result our digestive system will not appropriately break down nutrients.” Really, you can’t go wrong with oil pulling. It’s a “win” on so many fronts!

2. Ditch the commercial toothpaste.

Similarly, popular toothpastes contain oral microbiome destroyers and chemicals like aluminum hydroxide, aspartame, carrageenan, DEA (diethanolamine), flavorings, fluoride, food coloring, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, parabens, potassium sorbate, propylene glycol, sodium benzoate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium saccharin, titanium dioxide, and triclosan. Gross! Dr. Alvin Danenberg, D.D.S., explains that the claims made by commercial toothpaste manufacturers are misleading and confusing: “Most conventional toothpastes in the marketplace include chemicals that are harsh to the teeth and gums. While these chemicals may make toothpaste ‘feel smooth’ or ‘taste good’ or ‘help to whiten teeth’ or ‘coat the teeth to prevent decay’, these chemicals are unhealthy overall. Toothpaste companies will not share the truth of these potentially harmful chemicals with you.” According to Dr. Danenberg, toothpaste is not necessary; “the mechanical cleaning with dental floss and various sized brushes will adequately clean your teeth.” Still, tooth brushing can be satisfying. In his recent interview on the Primal Blueprint podcast (it’s worth a listen!), Danenberg says that he brushes with coconut oil + baking soda. I travel a lot, so I like to keep 2 oz. tubes of natural, fluoride-free, mineral toothpastes by Dr. Brite on hand. (The strawberry flavor is my favorite. Also, if oil pulling isn’t for you, Dr. Brite makes various mouthwashes, as well!)

3. Ditch the (you guessed it!) commercial teeth-whitening strips; instead, opt for a cleaner diet.

Once again, it all comes back to diet! Both Dr. Danenberg, author of Crazy-Good Living: Healthy Gums, Healthy Gut, Healthy Lifeand Dr. Steven Lin, D.D.S. and author of The Dental Diet, advocate for dental optimization through diet optimization. (To hear Dr. Steven Lin’s thoughts in greater detail, check out this excellent podcast episode.) Weston A. Price was the first to make the connection between diet and dental health. Through his research of and exposure to primitive tribes, he discovered that their access to sugar-laden, highly processed foods severely and negatively impacted their dental health: “…physical degeneration occurred in children of native parents who had adopted the white man’s diet; while mixed race children whose parents had consumed traditional foods were born with wide handsome faces and straight teeth.” The diets recommended by Danenberg, Lin, and Price are all quite similar; each places a focus on whole, organic, sugar-free, unprocessed foods. (Click here to view Weston A. Price’s detailed diet recommendations.) The good news is this: When you eat in a way that betters your dental health, you will also enhance your overall health! Again, it’s a win-win!

Have you ever considered the need to optimize your oral microbiome? Will you make any changes after reading this post? Please share in the comments! (Also, if you have recommendations for future posts, I’d love to hear them!)

In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!



3 thoughts on “The Oral Microbiome: Why It’s Important and How to Care for It

  1. Ann says:

    I am excited to try oil pulling after our vacation. Have never heard of this method and have never been a swisher so this will be new for me. Glad there is an option besides teeth whitening strips which I use occasionally. Also, I am going to order Dr. Brite as the toothpastes I have seen in Whole Foods do not seem as good. So interesting that we should be paying more attention to our mouths as well as our guts.
    Good and useful information.


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