The human digestive system is home to a large and diverse group of microorganisms. Of the 100 trillion different species of foreign microorganisms that reside on or in the human body, over half live in the digestive tract. When the gastrointestinal (GI) tract experiences any type of dysbiosis, an imbalance of helpful and harmful bacteria, the functions of many other organ systems are affected.
For example, the first part of the digestive system, the mouth, is home to hundreds of different species of microorganisms. The first phase of digestion begins in the mouth with the secretion of saliva. When the balance of microorganisms is disrupted in the mouth, when harmful bacteria grow and overpower the helpful bacteria, it can lead to inflammation and infection in the oral cavity, and tooth decay. So, it stands to reason that the microbial health of the mouth and gut are interconnected. In fact, changes in oral microbiota appear to be linked to changes in gut microbiota, and vice versa. At the same time, an imbalance in either oral or gut microbiota can lead to the development of diseases throughout the body.
Not only is the healthy balance of the gut microbiome crucial to the health of the entire body, we can also look to the mouth as an indicator of the health and well-being of the gut. For example, bad breath is more than just an indicator that you need to brush your teeth. It can also be an indicator that something is wrong in your gut, that the delicate balance of bacteria is off. Sugar is a major contributor to bad breath, since it feeds the harmful bacteria in the gut. Additionally, it can create inflammation and tooth decay in the mouth. The best way to avoid added sugar is to skip processed foods.
Cavities and bleeding gums can also be traced back to gut health. A healthy, well-fed gut microbiome contributes to an immune system that is able to keep inflammation from getting out of hand. When gums begin to bleed, it can be an indication that the immune cells sent to your mouth are the response of an overactive immune response. Continued imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to an autoimmune response in which the body begins to attack itself. Immune cells meant to respond to invading pathogens may actually react with healthy tissue, causing inflammation associated with an autoimune disease.
A thick white coat on the tongue can also be an indicator of a poor digestive function. When you have a thick white coating on your tongue, you probably have an overburdened digestive system. An overworked digestive system can result in slower and improper digestion that may lead to a buildup of a bad bacteria or yeast. These issues may be reflected as a thick white coating on your tongue.
Some ways to protect oral health and foster healthy gut bacteria include adding more fiber to your diet; brushing and flossing your teeth daily; and cutting back on added sugar, especially in processed foods. If symptoms of a bacterial imbalance or poor digestion persist, it may be time to see your doctor.