Your mouth contains roughly 700 different types of bacteria. Most of these microorganisms are harmless. Others, however, increase your risks for developing cavities and gum disease. Your mouth isn't a static environment; conditions and lifestyle factors - from being kissed to what you eat to your brushing and flossing habits - affect the microbiome. Learn more about the bacterial composition of your mouth and factors that can increase the number of concerning strains within it.
About Your Oral Microbiome
Your body has multiple microbiomes, where various types of bacteria congregate. The composition of your mouth's microbiome begins to build right from the time you're born. Factors from what you eat to other exposures introduce various bacteria to this area, diversifying it in the process. Some bacteria decide to remain, and others exit the mouth microbiome with time.
Eventually, the average adult has about 700 species of bacteria in their mouth. Some actually help fight decay, and others contribute to the formation of biofilms, better known as plaque. In addition, the microbiome isn't uniform: Certain species reside on your teeth, and others prefer your gums or tongue.
Of all types of bacteria present, some of the more concerning species include:
- Streptococcus mutans, which lives off sugary, starchy foods and congregates on ridged or chipped areas. Overgrowth increases the amount of acid to which your teeth are exposed and may eventually cause tooth decay.
- Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is associated with gingivitis and eventually periodontitis.
From the time you're born through adulthood, multiple factors affect and contribute to your oral microbiome. These include:
- When your teeth come in - including during toddlerhood and later for your adult teeth.
- Whether your parents have gum disease.
- If your mother smokes. During pregnancy?
- What you eat and drink.
- Your oral hygiene routine.
- Other health conditions.
Imbalances can contribute to bad breath, cavities and gum disease, and eventually progressive conditions, like periodontitis or tooth loss. The inflammation and infection from these conditions can even spread to your blood vessels and other parts of your body.
Causes of Bacteria Buildup in Your Mouth
Your mouth is more likely to see an overgrowth of certain bacteria types in relation to the following factors:
- Negligent dental hygiene: This entails not brushing your teeth at least twice per day and flossing at least once. Ideally, brushing after every meal helps control biofilms and bacterial buildup.
- Insufficient nutrition: This can take the form of "trench mouth" in response to nutritional deficiencies and a weakened immune defense, or it can be caused by eating a diet high in sugars, acids and starches, which ultimately feed the bacteria present.
- Decreased saliva production: Decreasing saliva protection can occur as a result of dry mouth or another health condition. When this happens, your mouth can't effectively wash away bacteria present, causing them to accumulate in response.
- Consuming acidic drinks and food: Acidic drinks and foods increase bacterial growth in your mouth. A larger or imbalanced bacteria population then eats away at the enamel and can contribute to tooth decay.
Signs of Bacteria Buildup
Your mouth may be seeing an increase in certain types of harmful bacteria if you notice:
- A sour taste in your mouth.
- Bad breath that never goes away.
- Bleeding after you brush.
- Tender, swollen or painful gums.
- Ulcers around your mouth.
- A whitish or gray film on the gums.
What You Can Do
To help keep the bacteria in your mouth balanced and controlled:
- Brush your teeth a minimum of twice per day, ideally after every meal.
- Brush your tongue and cheeks, in addition to your teeth.
- Floss at least once per day.
- Rinse your mouth at least once per day with an antimicrobial mouthwash containing fluoride.
- Limit sweets, starchy foods and acidic foods and drinks.
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