This 1 Habit Can Significantly Improve Your Gut Health—And It Has Nothing to Do With Diet

Thanks to a burgeoning research community and an increasingly vocal collective discussion, more and more Americans are discovering that what happens in the gut doesn't just stay in the gut.

Science shows that gut health can affect everything from our immune system and chronic inflammation to our mental health and sleep quality. The relationship is also two-way. Poor sleep, stress and anxiety, excessive inflammation and infections can also have an impact on our microbiome (the community of good bacteria that call our gut home).

And, thanks to our gut health expert Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Charleston, South Carolina and author of fiber fuel recipeswe now know about another body system that is directly related to gut health (and it has absolutely nothing to do with fiber or fermented foods): our dirty mouths.

No, we're not talking about swearing in a fight like a reality TV star; We are talking about oral hygiene. Next, learn more about why gut health and dental health are so related. Then review best practices for caring for your teeth, gums, and gut all at once.

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How oral health affects gut health

William W. Li, M.D., a Boston physician and author of Beating disease through diet: New science on how the body heals itselfintroduces the scene: “Our gut begins in the mouth. Healthy bacteria also live in our mouth, gums, and tongue. This is called our ‘oral microbiome.’ This means a healthy gut It starts with good oral health, and how we manage our dental health can impact our overall physical health.

This comes into play in ways big and small. In the caption of an Instagram video she shared in January 2023, Bulsiewicz explained that the microbes living in our mouths may be linked to our risk of colon cancer:

“There is a special type of bacteria called Fusobacterium that is always present in colon polyps and colon tumors. Fusobacterium does not originate in the intestines, but in the mouth,” Bulsiewicz added, noting that scientists and doctors believe that , poor oral health may affect your oral health.

Other medical professionals and fans chimed in via the comments to agree: “I have been a dentist for over 20 years and it's NOT that surprising that mouth health is connected with overall body health. In fact the mouth and the colon are both parts of the Digestive tract.” Another said: “As my osteopath always says 'it's all a tube, everything is connected.'”

One example of how connections occur within the tubes: When bad bacteria overgrow in the mouth, they produce harmful byproducts, such as hydrogen sulfide, which can damage the lining of the intestines. These bacteria and related byproducts then enter the bloodstream and can affect distant organs, exacerbating inflammation and contributing to the progression of certain diseases.

“Gum disease, also called periodontitis or gingivitis, is a condition where people’s gums become inflamed and infected,” explains Whitney DiFoggio, a registered dental hygienist in Chicago and co-founder of Teeth Talk Girl. This gum disease bacteria can enter our gut and affect the bacterial balance there.

Research backs this up: Bacteria in our mouths have been shown to have the potential to enter our stomachs and intestines, according to a March 2019 study published in the journal Nature. Journal of Oral Microbiology.

“Inflammation can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea,” says Kenneth Brown, MD, a gastroenterologist in Plano, Texas, and the show's host. Intestinal examination items podcast. “Poor dental health can lead to cavities and gum disease. These conditions can lead to chronic inflammation of the mouth, which leads to inflammation throughout the body.”

Dental health isn't just linked to gut health and the risk of certain gastrointestinal cancers. DiFoggio reminds us that research also shows a link between dental health and:

What is the one common factor in all of these health conditions? You guessed it: inflammation.

How gut health affects oral health

According to DiFoggio, the relationship is a two-way street. The trillions of bacteria in our digestive tracts also affect oral health. If harmful bacteria are able to thrive in what Brown describes as a “disturbed gut environment,” a person may be more likely to develop plaque, tooth decay, and be diagnosed with gum disease.

The inflammation we have been discussing can also start due to an imbalance within the microbiome and spread to the mouth and eventually turn into gum disease. If left untreated, this type of gingivitis can progress into more serious periodontal disease, Brown says.

A healthy gut is also crucial for optimal nutrient absorption. Key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D (which aids in enamel and bone health) and vitamin A (which aids in saliva production and oral tissue health), are absorbed more efficiently in a healthy gut. If your gut health is compromised, it can cause malabsorption of these nutrients, which can affect your dental health.

Finally, certain gastrointestinal conditions can increase the risk of certain oral health problems.

“Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach acid to enter the mouth and damage the enamel. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with a variety of oral diseases, including canker sores and infections,” Brown added.

9 Best Ways to Improve Gut Health and Dental Health at the Same Time

“It's all connected! So maintaining a healthy gut through proper nutrition and gut-friendly practices can help improve oral health,” says DiFoggio.

The experts we spoke to agreed that a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, proper oral hygiene and getting enough quality sleep, is the best way to support gut and oral health. To keep your gut, gums, teeth, and tongue healthy at the same time, follow these pro tips.

  • Brush and floss. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day to help remove plaque and food particles and prevent gum disease, reducing the chance of developing oral problems that affect your gut health. Always check with your dental provider to make sure you're brushing your teeth correctly,” says DiFoggio. In the meantime, watch her popular how-to videos on YouTube. Not a big fan of flossing? Try using an interdental brush, water flosser, or floss pick.
  • Try using a tongue scraper. Bacteria can accumulate on your tongue and cause oral health problems. Ask your dentist to help teach you how to use a tongue scraper every day to gently remove bacteria and debris from the surface of your tongue, advises DiFoggio: “This promotes better oral hygiene and fresher breath!”
  • Schedule regular inspections. Regular dental checkups and cleanings can remove tartar, but regular brushing and flossing alone cannot. Your dentist can also identify and resolve any potential problems before they worsen. Take photos every six months or so for routine maintenance.
  • Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek oral health assistance. If any problems arise during these exams (such as a chipped tooth or sore, swollen gums), send an SOS to your dental care team. It's important to address gum disease promptly with professional treatment. This can help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and minimize the impact on gut health,” says DiFoggio.
  • Replenish energy with a varied diet. This will sound familiar if you hang out with us at Eat well Just a little. “Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats can provide essential nutrients for gut and dental health,” explains DiFoggio. “A balanced diet helps support a diverse gut microbiome and provides essential nutrients for strong teeth and healthy gums.” Brown continued, with fruits and vegetables receiving top marks for the fiber and polyphenols they provide. , your microbiome can use these fibers and polyphenols to produce anti-inflammatory metabolites for your gut and mouth. Get started with these gut-healthy dinners in three steps or less.
  • Wash wisely. Lee warns that some prescription mouthwashes contain chemicals that can kill healthy oral microbiota, which is important for dental health. However, you should be able to use most over-the-counter mouthwashes: “For the most part, the mouthwashes you can buy at the drugstore are fine and won't harm healthy oral bacteria.”
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water (here's how to estimate daily ounces) has many benefits for your body, including supporting gut and oral health. “Water supports digestion, nutrient absorption and intestinal function. It also helps neutralize the acids produced by bacteria that corrode enamel and promotes saliva production, which is critical for oral health,” Brown says.
  • And take a break. Adequate sleep supports overall health, including immune function. Brown reminds us, “Chronic sleep deprivation can disrupt the balance of gut microbes, which can lead to oral health problems.”
  • Try probiotics before bed. After brushing his teeth before bed, Li took a chewable tablet containing probiotics Lactobacillus reuteri. Research shows that this good bacteria is important for oral health and can even kill some harmful bacteria that cause cavities.

bottom line

Brown says oral and gut health are closely linked, so taking care of your teeth and gums can help keep your gut healthy and vice versa. Fortunately, many of the best ways to promote oral health and gut health are exactly the same. The goal is to eat a balanced diet, drink enough water, prepare yourself for sleep, schedule regular checkups, and follow your dentist's recommendations for brushing, flossing, and/or tongue scraping.

After you're done brushing your teeth and taking a probiotic supplement before bed, research 12 foods to improve your gut health at night so you can plan ahead for a healthier tomorrow.

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