Healthy teeth and gums can go a long way in keeping our bodies healthy. But a direct correlation between our teeth and healthy, glowing skin? There are actually a few ways our oral health contributes to the overall radiance of our complexion. So, if you’ve ever noticed that your skin is suddenly breaking out or being extra sensitive and irritated, it could be time to get in some extra dental care.
The Surprising Connection Between Oral Health and Skin Health
Oral health is an integral part of general health and well-being. But did you know that poor oral health can also affect the health and appearance of your skin? It turns out that the bacteria in our mouths can significantly impact our skin health and even contribute to inflammatory skin diseases if it overgrows and becomes imbalanced.
Our mouth has the second largest and most diverse microbiota after the gut. It nurtures numerous microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, a group of single-celled eukaryotes that can be free-living (living independently) or parasitic and feeding on nutrients and organic matter, such as other microorganisms, organic tissue, and leftover food particles. This ecosystem of microorganisms in our mouth plays a vital role in modulating our immune system and protecting us against disease-causing microorganisms or pathogens.
As it turns out, this is not just the case for our mouth. Numerous studies are beginning to show that the balance of these microorganisms is crucial for the health of our skin too. This is because a significant portion of these microorganisms is shared with the skin and the gut, and their balance is necessary for the health of our skin barrier, which helps protect us from external factors, such as environmental pollutants, UV rays, and pathogenic bacteria.
A significant portion of the microorganisms in our mouth is shared with the skin and the gut.
An overgrowth in certain bacteria that can cause teeth or gum disease has also been observed in people who are dealing with certain skin diseases — making it clear that there's a link between our oral health and skin health, and the balance of bacterial colonies in our mouth is essential for healthy skin.
Common Dental Problems That Can Lead to Skin Issues
Since shared bacteria weirdly connect our mouth and our skin, let's look into the most common dental issues that can also lead to skin issues.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth from leftover food particles and saliva that mix in the mouth. Once formed, plaque can slowly lead to the erosion of enamel due to the acids produced by the bacteria in plaque, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. However, it can also create a favorable environment for bacteria that can cause skin diseases.
Plaque has recently been related to skin conditions, such as acne, due to the pro-inflammatory environment created, and eczema, due to the higher levels of bacteria that can disrupt our skin's barrier and make it susceptible to becoming colonized by harmful pathogens. This can trigger the immune system to send pro-inflammatory signals, causing visible irritation that can look like pimples or eczema rashes on the skin.
Gingivitis is an early form of gum disease characterized by redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums. It’s caused by plaque accumulation and can lead to an imbalance of the mouth's bacterial colonies, leading to an increase in certain bacteria that eat away at the healthy tissue and bone around our teeth.
One of these strains of bacteria is Porphyromonas gingivalis, which has been linked to the development of psoriasis and the disruption of the skin's natural barrier, as well as skin infections.
If left untreated, gingivitis can eventually lead to periodontal disease, a severe form of gum disease characterized by the loss of bone and gum tissue around the teeth. The inflammation caused by an excessive accumulation of plaque and bacteria that invade the surrounding tissues causes periodontitis.
This disruption of the oral microbiome can lead to an imbalance of the bacteria on our skin. This can then turn into skin issues, such as chronic inflammation, and has even been associated with skin conditions like psoriasis, an immune-mediated disease caused by an overproduction of skin cells and an increase in inflammation.
Study participants with psoriasis had a higher occurrence of periodontal disease than those without it.
Psoriasis can be provoked or exacerbated by specific pathogens. Two have been strongly linked to periodontal disease: Streptococcus pyogenes and Candida albicans, both of which can be found in plaque and have been linked to an increased risk for psoriasis. Studies on these pathogens show that participants with psoriasis had a higher occurrence of periodontal disease than those without it.
Endodontic infection is the infection of the dental root canal system and the significant causing agent of apical periodontitis, which is inflammation and subsequent destruction of the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues surrounding the tooth's root. However, this seemingly localized infection may have more to do with the destruction of our skin than you might think.
The bacteria from endodontic infections, mainly Propionibacterium acnes, have been linked to the development of acne due to their pro-inflammatory propensity and ability to colonize deeper layers of the skin where it feeds on our skin oil and cellular debris. This, in turn, causes the immune system to react to the overgrowth by sending inflammatory signals, leading to the formation of pimples. P. acnes has also been associated with the development of certain subtypes of rosacea, particularly papulopustular rosacea, an inflammatory condition that manifests on the face as a red rash with small pus-filled bumps.
Tips for Maintaining Good Oral Health
If you want to step up your dental care game and reduce your risk of skin issues, here are some tips for keeping your mouth in tip-top shape:
Maintain Oral Hygiene
The best way to maintain oral hygiene is to brush your teeth at least twice a day using a gentle, non-invasive toothpaste and a toothbrush with ultra-soft bristles. Using a soft toothbrush helps avoid microtears in the gums, which can then be filled with bacteria and plaque.
Flossing daily is also essential for removing food stuck between your teeth and reducing the number of pathogenic bacteria in the mouth. It's important to choose floss that won't damage the gums and doesn't contain alcohol or added flavors that could contribute to irritation and inflammation.
Oil-pulling is a naturopathic practice involving swishing oil in the mouth for 20 minutes daily to reduce bacteria and improve gum health. Although not generally recommended by dentists, oil-pulling with certain oils, such as coconut, has been shown to help improve gingivitis and even reverse gum recession in patients with aggressive periodontitis.
Avoid Overusing Antibacterial Mouthwash
While not using antibacterial mouthwash might seem counterproductive when trying to maintain oral hygiene, it’s important to keep in mind that when used excessively, mouthwash can cause an overgrowth of bacteria and do more harm than good.
Mouthwash also destroys the beneficial bacteria that can help fight off pathogens.
This occurs because the antibacterial components in mouthwashes can't differentiate between the good and bad bacteria in our mouth and pretty much destroy everything in its path, including the beneficial bacteria that can help fight off pathogens. This can then allow more resistant, pathogenic bacteria, such as those implicated in periodontal disease, to grow and colonize. Only use mouthwash when necessary and in moderation to maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the mouth.
Mind Your Diet
Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can also contribute to poor oral health, as these foods are broken down and converted into acids that erode the enamel of our teeth and increase the risk of cavities, plaque buildup, and gum disease.
Make sure that you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, since deficiencies like those of vitamin C, zinc, and iron have been linked to a decrease in the body's ability to fight off infections and can also cause degenerative changes in the teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth.
Schedule Regular Checkups
Finally, having regular dental checkups and cleanings is essential, as these can help to prevent more advanced gum diseases and tooth decay. Through detailed checkups, a dentist can catch early signs of gum disease or other oral issues that aren't always visible to us until they become more severe, and your dentist can provide guidance on maintaining better oral hygiene at home.
All in all, it's been proven that oral health plays an important role in our general health and well-being. However, emerging studies show that maintaining good oral health might just prevent certain inflammatory skin conditions and give us a clear, glowing complexion.
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