Bacteria. The first thing that probably comes to mind when you hear that word is illness. You might think of bacteria as the germs that grow on toilets or in water fountains, like so many that are highlighted in petri dishes to remind you to always wash your hands.
Scientists have estimated that there are five million trillion trillion bacteria on earth. Yes, you read that right. That’s a five with 30 zeroes after it! And if that seems shocking, consider how many strains of it are in the human body! The human body contains trillions of microorganisms — outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of the body’s mass (in a 200-pound adult, that’s 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria).
Before you get too grossed out, the bacteria in our bodies play a vital role in human health.
Further narrowing down the scope of it, individuals who practice good oral hygiene have between 1,000 to 100,000 bacteria living on each tooth surface, while mouths in need of a good dental cleaning can have between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria on each tooth. While some of the bacteria in our mouths are harmful and can cause serious illness, much of our oral bacteria are actually beneficial, including in preventing disease!
Before you call your dentist in a panic, let us help you understand the difference between beneficial bacteria and those the can cause significant oral health issues.
Tell me more about this bacteria…
The bacteria in the mouth can cover any surface. In addition to clinging to teeth, it also covers the tongue, back of the throat, cheeks and gums. Don’t worry though, they aren’t all bad. In fact, oral bacteria work with our immune system to keep our bodies disease-free by fighting disease-producing germs trying to come in through the mouth.
For example, some of these bacteria produce organic acids that kill the organisms that cause intestinal problems. Without these good bacteria, our immune systems would be constantly bombarded by airborne and saliva-transferred germs. Bacteria are also needed to control the growth of fungus.
What are the basic types of oral bacteria?
First, the bad: Streptococcus mutans (also known as “S. mutans”) is the main contributor to decay and the breaking down of your tooth enamel, and is found on most tooth surfaces—especially the difficult areas to clean like pits and fissures. Shockingly, this bacteria can appear in the mouth of infants prior to any teeth erupting.
To prevent harm from this bad boy (namely, cavities), it’s important to “disrupt the environment” this type of bacteria is growing in. This growth happens when the mouth is overly acidic, or when sugars are left lingering on the teeth. This guy also likes to congregate on the gum line. This can lead to gum recession, tooth decay and tooth loss if not addressed.
Cavities come from the breakdown of tooth enamel caused by bacteria like S. mutans with its interaction with the food and drinks in your diet. The bad bacteria can combine best with sugars and complex carbohydrates to form an acid that eats at tooth enamel. Because the evidence of this acidic complex (first seen in a film that develops on the teeth) is chronic and constantly occurring, this is why we brush our teeth at least twice a day.
The good news is there are also types of it in the mouth that are our best friends, and through proper diet and oral hygiene they can be spurred to multiply. Good bacteria like Streptococcus salivarius K12 help ward off bad breath by destroying those harmful bad bacteria.
In addition, good bacteria often found in probiotics have been shown to ward off oral health problems such as cavities and tooth decay. That’s because healthy bacteria can improve or stimulate saliva production, and saliva is responsible for washing away the food particles, sugar and other bad germs that can lead to oral health problems.
How do I ensure balance in the good bacteria?
It is important to ensure you have the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your mouth. In fact, some studies have shown that eliminating all bacteria can be just as harmful as having only bad bacteria.
If you are experiencing oral health problems, it may be time to visit Dr. Marchbanks in our Arlington office to ensure your mouth is in good shape, from the bacteria on up!