We all know bacteria in your mouth can be a bad thing. Indeed, bacteria’s lactic acid fermentation is the process that bores holes into your teeth, leading to cavities. But did you know that bacteria in your mouth can be beneficial. In fact, your mouth is teeming with bacteria, some bad and some quite good.
The study of the organisms in the mouth is called oral ecology. The 17th century scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek was the first to detect bacteria on mouth biofilm under a microscope. He discovered how numerous these microbes were and how energetic they could be.
Streptococcus mutans is a main culprit in the formation of cavities, or dental caries.
Today, scientists have delved deeper into the study of the oral ecology. They’ve discovered far more than Leeuwenhoek had with his early microscopic observations.
Dr. Bruce Paster of Forsyth Institute in Boston highlights just one of the reasons for our greater knowledge. Besides better instruments, the genetic revolution in science enabled scientists to name and map different bacterial species far better than before. According to him, we have roughly 75 to 100 different species of bacteria!
Paster points out that different species occupy different parts of the mouth. For instance, bacteria on the sides of the tongue differ somewhat from those that live on the top of the tongue. In the same vein, bacteria on the hard palate differ from those on the teeth and they differ from those on the cheek.
To get a mouth this nice, you need to be an assiduous mouth caretaker, but also possess a good oral ecosystem.
But a key point arises here. Different species of bacteria gives rise to good and bad bacteria. The bad bacteria are those that are shaped like rods, or round forms called cocci, and even ones like corkscrews, a shape which allows for greater mobility.
It is these corkscrew bacteria with their ability to move around more freely that are bad. If these bacteria manage to plant themselves on your teeth and thrive, they’ll begin to rot both your teeth and gums.
These bacteria, however, can be fended off in a healthy mouth by good bacteria. In a healthy mouth, the oral ecosystem consists of an almost forest of different bacteria that prevent these bad ones from settling down. So let us not stereotype all bacteria in your mouth as bad.
Advances in genetics have enabled scientists to map and catalog far more species of bacteria in your mouth than previously possible.
This difference in bacteria may give rise to unusual circumstances such as an unhealthy mouth in a diligent brusher. Dr. Lawrence Siu, a dentist in Tacoma Park, Maryland, has had a 32-year old patient who stresses that he is a meticulous caretaker of his mouth. Nevertheless, this patient revealed severe periodontal disease, to the point he’d most likely lose all of his teeth.
It is not known whether this patient somehow wiped out his good bacteria, hence the disease. It is hoped, however, some day scientists will be able to test the healthiness of your oral ecology. Sure, a dentist can observe cavities and plaque, but to devise a test that reveals how good of shape your mouth’s ecology is in would enable far greater treatment. We can only hope science will advance so far…