Your Mouth is Gross. Here's why.

May 7, 2019

Let’s talk germs. More specifically, let’s talk about the billions of germs hanging around in your mouth at this very minute. And no, that’s not a typo. I do mean billions.

If you think your mouth is clean, think again. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but that small-but-mighty engine you use for eating, drinking, and gabbing is pretty gross. At any given moment, you will find between one million and one billion bacteria on each tooth in your mouth.

So why exactly is your mouth so full of bacteria in the first place?

Your Mouth is the Perfect Breeding Ground for Germs

Your mouth is a warm, wet environment. In other words, it is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. While there are over seven hundred types of bacteria known to exist in the human mouth, the average person only hosts an average of thirty-four to seventy-two varieties.

Small consolation, right? Thirty-four different kinds of bacteria still seems like quite a bit when we are talking about a small space like the mouth.

These bacteria start breeding in your mouth pretty much from birth. Some occur naturally, and others hitchhike their way inside. When you drink a glass of water, for example, plenty of bacteria come along for the ride. The same is true when you give someone a kiss or breath in airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze.

In fact, studies suggest that even a mother’s oral health during pregnancy has an impact. Pregnant women who have a lot of cavity-causing bacteria can transmit that bacteria to their newborns.

Not all bacteria stays around for very long; some simply passes through on its way to your intestinal tract. But a good amount of bacteria sticks around to colonize. And that’s when things get interesting.

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Your Teeth are a Mini Gotham City

By now, you might be wondering what all of those billions of bacteria do in your mouth all day. It helps to think of your mouth like a small but important ecosystem, teaming with both good and bad bacteria. You might even call it a microscopic Gotham City.

Beneficial bacteria — the superheroes in this scenario — actually helps prevent tooth decay. All the while, the villainous bad bacteria are also hard at work. When Gotham is healthy, the superheroes keep the villains in check. But poor oral hygiene, poor diet, and other health issues tip the balance, causing bad bacteria to take over.

When Bad Bacteria Win, You Lose

When left in your mouth, bacteria bands together with saliva and food to form a sticky substance called dental plaque, which accumulates on your teeth and underneath your gum line. If plaque isn’t removed thoroughly, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar. Tartar gives plaque more surface area and an even stickier place on which to adhere.

If plaque and tartar aren’t removed regularly, they contribute to bad breath, gum disease, cavities, and even tooth loss. Tartar also becomes a cosmetic issue; because it is porous, it easily absorbs stains from things like coffee, tea, and smoking.

Poor Oral Hygiene Affects More Than Your Mouth

It’s not just your mouth that bears the brunt of that nasty bacteria. Your oral health impacts your overall well being.

Oral bacteria enters the bloodstream through disease-damaged and inflamed blood vessels in your gums. For the most part, our bodies have systems in place to manage this bacteria, but research suggests that some harmful bacteria find their way through. Researchers estimate that more than a hundred systemic diseases — like pulmonary disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and kidney disease — have at least some association with poor oral health.

In some cases, like diabetes, the connection is very concrete. Evidence strongly suggests that the treatment of one condition positively impacts the other.

Your Dentist is the Best Line of Defense

What you do at home to protect your teeth, like brushing, flossing, and eating a healthy diet, is essential to keeping your mouth clean and healthy. But regular visits to your dentist are the single best line of defense against all of that nasty bacteria.

Think of the team at your dentist’s office like a powerful cleaning crew for your mouth. Even if you are a superstar brusher and flosser, some plaque and tartar is just plain tough to remove at home. Your dentist has special instruments to remove tartar and get rid of plaque in hard-to-reach areas.

During your regular appointment, your dental hygienist scales and polishes your teeth to loosen and remove tartar, deposits, and stains. This deep treatment not only leaves you with a squeaky clean feeling in your mouth, but it ultimately lowers your risk of gum disease and tooth decay, and keeps those pearly whites looking their best.