Aging Well: The Oral Microbiome Connection
When it comes to aging well, we often think about movement and diet as ways to take care of ourselves. Research has demonstrated a third way people can support their own aging experience: oral care.1
Oral health problems may begin earlier than you think. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, more than 47% of people over the age of 30 already have problems with their teeth and gums. By the time we hit our mid-60’s, that number jumps to over 70%. Statistics are even higher for smokers, people with less than a high school education, and for men.2
A Winning Smile and More
Taking care of your teeth and gums has more than just cosmetic benefits. Experts now know that neglecting your hygiene can speed up the aging process. Research has shown that by taking care of your mouth, you may also be:
Supporting lifelong mental acuity. Some studies are showing a connection between oral health and brain health.3
Keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy. Invaders in the mouth can spread and cause systemic problems.4
Helping the body maintain normal blood sugar levels. Studies show that blood glucose control can be affected by oral infections.5
Problems with these different systems can be hard on the body, wearing it down. By taking care of yourself, you can help avoid premature damage, keeping your parts youthful.
Oral Microbiome Balance
So how exactly does proper oral hygiene slow the aging process? In part, it’s about keeping a balance in the oral microbiome.
Even when it’s kept clean, your mouth is home to an impressive population of over 700 species of microorganisms. Just like your gut microbiome, some of them are helpful, and some are not.7
For example, certain helpful bacteria can help digest healthy high-fiber foods that pass through our mouths and metabolize them into beneficial chemicals like hydrogen peroxide. Components from our saliva then react synergistically with these bacteria-made chemicals to create new anti-microbial substances. This helps ward off harmful bacteria that could damage the mouth or cause problems in the rest of the body ultimately affecting healthy aging71011
On the other hand, harmful bacteria can cause tooth decay and gum disease.7 Without daily hygiene, harmful microbes can overpopulate and leave a sticky film, or plaque, on your teeth. That plaque can eventually cause damage and infection to your teeth and gums. This infection can then trickle to other parts of your body including the blood vessels, nervous system, heart, and brain.3457
This invasion may be sudden and obvious causing pain and a fever. Or it may be subtle, invading the body without being noticed. The victim may be completely oblivious to the damage, or may not realize that a problem in another part of the body actually originated in the mouth. Over time, it can lead to premature damage of body organs and systems before their time.1345
Avoiding too many refined carbohydrate foods like sugary drinks, candy, pastries, and even crackers is one way to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Certain sugars stick to the crevices in your mouth and are the favorite foods of “saccharolytic” microbes, which produce acids that may break down your tooth enamel, leading to problems.12
Promoting Healthy Aging with Nutrition and Hygiene
You may have heard that good nutrition can feed your gut microbiome as well as support overall health by providing essential vitamins and minerals. If you need one more reason to think about what you eat, certain foods can promote a healthy oral microbiome, while others seem to cause harm.8
Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables feed beneficial bacteria.
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids can promote gum health.
Saturated fats, which are found in animal-based proteins, seem to worsen oral infections.
When it comes to oral health, nothing replaces basic hygiene. Remember these important tips:9
Brush after meals with a toothpaste or tooth gel, and floss daily. These practices can keep bacteria under control and protect the teeth and gums.
Have your teeth professionally cleaned at the dental office twice a year. Professionals can spot problems before they progress and cause damage to your body.
The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause major damage to your mouth. If you’re a smoker, do your best to quit.
If you have special conditions like dry mouth from medications, ask for oral hygiene advice from your practitioner.
Using an alcohol-free mouthwash after brushing and flossing can rinse away any particles that were left in your mouth.
Properly caring for your mouth throughout the lifespan is an important but often overlooked component to aging well. Whether you’re 25 or 85, it may be a major key to keeping your entire body healthy so that you can get the most out of life for years to come.
“The National Council on Aging.” (n.d.). Accessed November 3, 2022.
“Periodontal Disease.” (2018). Accessed December 14, 2018. Cdc.gov.
[Study on Gum Disease and Dementia]. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Accessed November 3, 2022.
Gianos, Eugenia, Elizabeth A. Jackson, Astha Tejpal, Karen Aspry, James O’Keefe, Monica Aggarwal, Ankur Jain, et al. (2021). American Journal of Preventive Cardiology 7 (September): 100179.
Genco, R. J., S. G. Grossi, A. Ho, F. Nishimura, and Y. Murayama.2005. J. Periodontol.76:2075-2084.
Sheetal, Aparna, Vinay Kumar Hiremath, Anand G. Patil, Sangmeshwar Sajjansetty, and Sheetal R. Kumar. (2013). Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: JCDR 7 (1): 178–80.
Deo, Priya Nimish, and Revati Deshmukh. (2019). Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: JOMFP 23 (1): 122–28.
Santonocito, Simona, Amerigo Giudice, Alessandro Polizzi, Giuseppe Troiano, Emanuele Maria Merlo, Rossana Sclafani, Giuseppe Grosso, and Gaetano Isola. (2022). Nutrients 14 (12). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14122426.
“Oral Health Tips.” (2021). November 9, 2021.
Hof, Wim van ’t, Enno C. I. Veerman, Arie V. Nieuw Amerongen, and Antoon J. M. Ligtenberg. (2014). Monographs in Oral Science 24 (May): 40–51.
Takahashi, N. (2015). Journal of Dental Research 94 (12): 1628–37.
Kilian, M., I. L. C. Chapple, M. Hannig, P. D. Marsh, V. Meuric, A. M. L. Pedersen, M. S. Tonetti, W. G. Wade, and E. Zaura. (2016). British Dental Journal 221 (10): 657–66.