Gut health and oral health affect each other, so healthy eating is crucial.

Is your cavity or canker sore a simple matter, or a sign of a more serious issue? Surprisingly, the answer may depend on what’s happening in your gut (your digestive system). Here’s how it works.

What is the connection between your mouth and your gut?

Research is beginning to show that the digestive system not only functions as a pipeline from your mouth, but as a “biological interface with the outside world.” In other words, your gut has the job of not only conveying through your system whatever you eat or drink, but also of managing how your body reacts to it. A strong, healthy gut will do a good job of protecting your overall health, while a weakened or unhealthy one will not.

How does this work? Immunity starts in the gut with microflora—good bacteria and other organisms that live in the intestines. Microflora, which are just one part of our microbiome, help our bodies to digest food and to make certain vitamins. The term microbiome refers to all the microorganisms that live together within a particular habitat, such as your body, or soil, or the ocean. In the body, it is this collection of microorganisms that protect your entire immune system by serving as your first line of defense against illness, infection, and disease. The immune system activates only when your microbiome isn’t healthy and working as it should.

How do oral health and gut health affect each other?

Bacteria can travel between the stomach and the mouth. If you have an excessive amount of cavities, it might be an indication of unhealthy gut flora. A strong immune system helps you to maintain a healthy mouth, and a healthy mouth strengthens your immunity. Since it works both ways, it’s important to strive for overall health—especially while COVID-19 is a significant public health issue.

Within the mouth, what are the signs of a healthy digestive system?

Three clear signs of good digestive health are a low number of cavities, no evidence of gum disease, and no bad breath.

What are the signs that someone’s gut might be affecting their oral health badly?

Bad breath, numerous cavities, and signs of gum disease could indicate a digestive system issue. Gum disease is sometimes a contributing factor to gut problems. Recurring and worsening dental issues may be a sign that you need to eat more fiber (which feeds good bacteria), talk to your physician, and/or reduce your intake of sugar. Sugar feeds candida (yeast), which creates harmful bacteria.

Do these signs appear in young children? What should parents look for?

“Children may also display these signs, and we take note of them at Winchester Dental,” says Dr. Gio. “In young children, cavities, gum disease, and/or bad breath are a possible indicator for us to recommend that parents talk to a doctor about probiotics, and encourage the child to eat more prebiotic foods (such as apples, bananas, onions, and others), foods with fiber, and foods that are fermented; and to recommend decreasing the child’s sugar intake. If we note that a patient is frequently ill, they may have a weak immune system, and in that case we also recommend that they consult their physician.”

What’s the best advice for anyone who wants to keep their teeth for their whole life?

Some of the easiest things you can do for good oral and gut health are:

  • Eat plenty of prebiotic foods
  • Eat plenty of foods that are high in fiber
  • Eat foods that are fermented
  • Eat mostly foods with little or no added sugar
  • Talk to your doctor about taking a probiotic
  • Floss your teeth every day
  • Brush your teeth twice each day for two minutes each time
  • Be sure to have at least two professional teeth cleanings each year

“There is no reason to ever lose teeth these days,” says Dr. Gio. “Two professional cleanings a year, proper brushing and flossing, and a good diet should keep your teeth healthy for your whole life. Prevention is the key to good health.”