What is the oral flora?
The term ‘oral flora’ refers to the billions of micro-organisms in our mouth. It includes hundreds of types of bacteria, as well as fungi, viruses and single-celled organisms. The oral flora differs from person to person and is determined by diet, oral hygiene, age and other factors. It is part of the human microbiome.
Keeping the oral flora in balance
The good microbes in our oral flora protect us from diseases, while the bad ones invite germs in. The oral flora is healthy when a balance is maintained. An unhealthy oral flora can be caused by stress, smoking, alcohol, poor oral hygiene or diseases such as diabetes. Evidence of an unhealthy oral flora include a strong tongue coating, bad breath or inflamed gums.
What are good and bad bacteria in the mouth?
One member of the protective squad in our mouth is the bacteria streptococcus salivarius. It fends off pathogens and protects us from inflammation. Another friend is streptrococcus sanguinis, which prevents caries – in contrast to streptococcus mutans, which actually promotes caries. In simple terms, caries bacteria (of which there are others) turn sugar into lactic acid, which then attacks the tooth enamel. Actinomycetes are responsible for infections in the mouth, and putrefactive bacteria on the tongue cause bad breath. Other bacteria and germs cause periodontitis.
Tips for a healthier oral flora
If your oral flora is out of balance, the key thing is to get rid of the more numerous harmful bacteria. This means practising good oral hygiene:
Clean your teeth at least twice a day and clean the interdental spaces thoroughly at least once a day.
Fluoride mouth washes can be used as an addition to your daily oral hygiene routine. Antiseptic mouthwashes such as chlorhexidine, on the other hand, should only be used in the short term as they also eradicate good bacteria.
Because many microbes live on the tongue, the tongue should also be scraped once a day.
It’s also advisable to schedule a regular professional cleaning with a dental hygienist.
Also important for a healthy oral flora is saliva. Saliva helps us to flush away bacteria and other microbes and dilutes acids that could lead to caries and other diseases. To produce enough saliva, drink plenty of water.
What role does diet play?
There are types of bacteria that proliferate on sugar. For this reason, people who eat a lot of sugar (or highly processed foods with a high sugar content) create optimal conditions for these bacteria to thrive. A good alternative to sugar is xylitol, which even slows down the growth of caries-promoting bacteria. Tobacco and alcohol damage the oral flora too and should be consumed in moderate quantities only. Coffee and milk can also have an adverse effect. Highly acidic foods such as lemon water potentially cause erosion.
Natural ways of promoting a healthy oral flora
Beneficial products include natural yoghurt, camomile, calendula, black and green tea, as well as sage, mint, parsley and thyme. If, despite all your good efforts, an inflammation such as an ulcer appears, household products like tea tree oil can help.