How Tooth Decay Affects Your Entire Body- Article By Steven Linn

For those of us that have had a hole in our tooth, the experience (whilst not all that pleasant), probably wasn’t a life-changing experience. In fact with figures showing up to 92% of adults have had tooth decay in their permanent dentition, dental caries is just a normal part of modern life.

However, with advances in understanding of the underlying bacterial causes of tooth decay and how the modern diet changes our oral ecosystem, there may be a many more long-term health implications than a simple hole in our tooth.

Ancient Plaque Shows Our Mouths Have Changed

Research suggests that along with these changes in diet the composition of bacteria living in human’s mouths began to change. Scientists have collected samples of plaque from the teeth of human skeletons from throughout history and were able to compare the diversity of bacteria that were in our ancestor’s mouths to the current oral cavity.

They found two significant shifts since arrival of farming in Europe around 8000 relating to our dietary consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars. These were related to:

  • The Rise Of Agriculture and Farming – When humans began farming and eating more wheat and barley became more prone to harbouring gum-disease causing bacteria.
  • The Industrial Revolution – The large-scale introduction of processed flour and sugar bacterial ecosystem in our mouths saw the proliferation of decay-causing streptococcus bacteria.

How We Let Bad Bacteria Take Over

These findings highlight that there are not as many types of bacteria in our mouth as there used to be. As with any biological ecosystem, diversity is key. A less diverse ecosystem is less healthy because it seems to allow bad bacteria dominate. It was found that hunter-gatherer groups had lower frequencies of disease-associated bacteria compared to levels today.

As the types of bacteria in our mouths have diminished, so has our oral health. The markedly less diverse oral microbiotic ecosystem is known to contribute to modern chronic oral diseases such as tooth decay.


Is Modern Healthcare Hurting Us?

The advances in dental technology and treatment may actually be diminishing our ability deal with the changes in the bacterial ecosystem in our mouths. In evolutionary terms, if a change in diet brought about a change in our bacterial ecosystems that was harmful to our teeth, making it harder to eat and survive, natural selection forces an organism to find the necessary nutrients to prevent the disease.

Dental fillings and treatment gives us a way to lessen the impact of what our diet does to our teeth, but it’s only a way to fix the damage that has been caused and the underlying imbalances in our bacterial ecosystem continues to harm our body.

The Mouth-Body Axis

Research is also showing the connection between the bacteria in our mouth and the bacteria that resides in our digestive system. The bacteria in and on our bodies outnumber our own cells 100 trillion to one and scientists are just beginning to understand the role they play in maintaining normal health.

A shift in gut flora has been linked to a range of modern diseases, including autoimmune, neural degeneration and digestive disorders due to a mechanism much like that of tooth decay, a shift in the ecology of bacteria.

Studies have investigated how the oral admission of porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacteria that causes gum disease, can alter the gut bacteria in what could be a possible link between gum disease and inflammatory disorders all over the body.

The Mouth As A Sign Of All Disease

Bacterial shifts since the agricultural and industrial revolution have shown how tooth decay is a modern disorder caused by the consumption of industrialised refined carbohydrates. Whilst often not a life threatening condition, the connection to a wide range of chronic health problems through a less diverse human micriobiome may all begin with how our diet changes the bacteria of the mouth.

A true understanding of the mouth-body axis may finally help us to grasp that the mouth and the entire body work together in a delicate biological system where oral disease is a sign of an overall bodily imbalance primarily driven by our diet.