By DOCS Writing Staff
It goes without saying, of course, that a healthy diet plays a substantial role in promoting dental health, a message that dentists have been promoting for decades.
But the precise impact of nutrition on overall oral health—including everything from dental caries and periodontal disease to cancer and countless other health problems—has become a subject of increasing interest to researchers. As the scope of their exploration expands, it’s becoming ever more apparent that healthy human microbiomes and diet have an important relationship, and together they play a considerable role in maintaining oral health.
Let’s look at some of the latest research on this topic and dig deeper into the relationship microbiomes and diet have with oral health.
Focus on the Microbiome
There has been substantial interest among the medical research community regarding the human microbiome and its impact on overall human health.
Loosely defined, the human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms—including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa—that live in and through our bodies, and researchers have explored the nature and function of both the gut microbiome—that of our digestive system—and the oral microbiome, comprised of the microorganisms that exist in our mouths. Research has discovered that healthy microbiomes are a key contributing factor to overall health.
The relationship between diet and human microbiome health—and specifically, the oral microbiome—is being deeply explored, and how diet plays a significant role in building and maintaining a healthy microbiome.
Being Human is to have a Microbiome
To be a healthy human is to have a healthy microbiome. And that relationship is significant and impactful on all aspects of health-including the mouth. Harvard Medical School and New York University College of Dentistry graduate, and celebrity biological dentist Dr. Gary Curatola has spent over 20 years researching the oral microbiome. He even wrote a book on it and developed a line of prebiotic toothpaste, which Dr. Curatola claims supports a well-balanced and healthy oral microbiome.
With decades of research behind him and a wing at NYU in his name for clinical research, Dr. Curatola’s studies on oral microbiomes have focused on the symbiotic relationship between man and microbe, one that seems to be essential in our ability to thrive and stay alive. Bacterial organisms in the mouth, known as the oral microbiome, form an intelligent, semipermeable membrane that keeps the mouth healthy. Dr. Curatola gave an interview explaining these vital functions for the holistic health and wellness magazine Goop as, “transporting ionic minerals from saliva to the surface of teeth to aid in remineralization, carrying molecular oxygen to the gums and soft tissue, and eliminating free radicals and other waste products from the surface. In addition to these important functions, the oral microbiome plays a vital role in protecting us from harmful environmental organisms.”
Eat Healthy Food, not Supplements
With a substantial body of research supporting the importance of healthy eating, public health officials have been lauding the benefits of a healthy diet, specifically fruits and vegetables, for decades now.
One group of researchers recently conducted a meta-analysis that examined more than 90 separate studies that in turn generated more than 140 publications on the topic. What researchers here found throughout these studies was that eating a steady diet of fruit and vegetables was associated with a “reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.” And, that millions of premature deaths worldwide could be attributable to fruit and vegetable intakes below recommended levels. These studies noted fruits and vegetables have a positive impact on health that goes beyond the impact of nutritional supplements.
As the research team wrote, “Together with largely null findings of randomized clinical trials on dietary antioxidant supplements and chronic disease prevention, the current findings have importance for public health because they support dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruit and vegetables, but not supplements, to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality.”
It’s the act of eating the food, and the relationship that food has with the microbiome in our mouth that appears significant in this research.
Diet and Dentistry
The impact of diet on oral health is well-established, with decades of research confirming this relationship. The American Dental Association calls it a “directional relationship," as nutrition affects the health of oral tissues from the very nutrients we consume, going beyond sugar.
One comprehensive study noted an established association between unhealthy eating and a number of oral health conditions, including cancers. Published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, the study specifically outlines and established the relationship between poor diet and dental caries; stunted development of tooth enamel; dental erosion; periodontal disease; gene-disease and fetal development; oral cancer; oral candidosis; oral lesions; and oral mucosal diseases.
Given the broad-based nature of the relationship between unhealthy habits and potentially serious health issues, the researchers in this study strongly advocated that dietary advice be a “routine part of patient education practices.”
That recommendation is mirrored in the official ADA policy on diet and nutrition which states that dentists should “routinely counsel their patients about the oral health benefits of maintaining a well-balanced diet and limiting the number of between-meal snacks.” The ADA also encourages its members to “stay abreast of the latest science-based nutrition recommendations and nutrition-related screening, counseling, and referral techniques.”
As the impact of nutrition on overall oral health becomes an increasing subject of interest to researchers, we look forward to more studies on the symbiotic relationship of human microbiomes and oral health. Through this research, a better understanding of the relationship between nutrition and the oral microbiome will allow dental professionals to better care for and advise patients on nutritional habits that promote systemic wellness.