For some of us, nothing makes our mouths feel cleaner than mouthwash. We gargle and spit, believing that the stinging pain it causes means it’s working. And while it certainly kills off bad bacteria, this oral hygiene product kills off good bacteria, too. Research shows that over-the-counter mouthwash may raise your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
If this sounds a little far-fetched, it’s because many of us don’t quite understand the enormous impact oral health has on the entire body. To help you better understand the concept, we consulted Kami Hoss, DDS, co-founder and CEO of The Super Dentists and author of If Your Mouth Could Talk (Preorder from Amazon, $26.95).
Oral Health and Total Body Health
How are oral health and total body health connected? According to Dr. Hoss, a lot of it has to do with the oral microbiome.
“Your microbiome is made up of all the tiny organisms in and on your body,” Hoss writes in If Your Mouth Could Talk. “It’s your microbial community, comprised of bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. And, like a fingerprint, everyone’s collection of microbes is different.”
As The British Dental Journal points out, the mouth is home to the second most diverse microbial community in the body (the first being the gut), and contains over 700 species of bacteria. And that community directly ties into the health of our gut.
“As the gateway to the body, the mouth sends microbes to your gut every time you swallow,” writes Hoss. “The microbiome in the gut has an important job. It helps with digestion, regulates metabolism, and helps your immune system fight off infection.
“If you have poor oral health, the oral microbiome can get out of balance, compromising that entire system. This can result in serious consequences, including diseases such as colon cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Oral Health and Heart Health
How does poor oral health connect to poor heart health? As Hoss previously told Woman’s World during a discussion of oral bacteria and high blood pressure, an imbalance of bacteria in the mouth can directly impact cardiovascular health.
Too much bad bacteria in our oral microbiome can reduce the amount of nitric oxide in our body. Nitric oxide is a molecule our bodies naturally produce, and it is essential to our overall health. As Hoss previously explained, “It’s involved in various processes, including expanding the blood vessels and increasing blood flow.”
To sum up: When our oral microbiome is out of balance and bad bacteria starts to overpopulate, it reduces our nitric oxide levels. This has a direct, negative effect on our cardiovascular health.
But how does this happen? It may be because certain oral hygiene products, like mouthwash, kill all the bacteria in our mouths — both the good and the bad.
The Downsides of Mouthwash
“Many oral care products indiscriminately kill the oral microbiome, disrupting the delicate balance,” Dr. Hoss writes. “They may transform beneficial microbes into a pathogenic state or allow new, more opportunistic ones to take hold.
Dr. Hoss adds that mouthwash changes your mouth’s pH — another reason it can alter your oral microbiome. “What you put in your mouth, and how often, affects the delicate pH balance of your oral microbiome.
“Eating acidic foods and sugar are just two ways that we disrupt the pH balance, but smoking, drugs, and using harsh toothpastes and mouthwashes also tilts the balance toward acidic, allowing the bad microbes to multiply. The more alkaline your saliva, the more it favors the ‘good’ bacteria, and the more acidic the pH is, the more the ‘bad’ microbes thrive.”
“The need for this delicate microbiome balance is why I caution everyone against using random, over-the-counter toothpastes and mouthwashes, especially those that contain antibacterial ingredients or alcohol,” he continues.
Research backs up these findings: A 2020 observational study published in the journal Blood Pressure found that people who frequently used mouthwash (twice daily or more) had a higher risk of hypertension. That was true even when the researchers accounted for other factors, like diet and genetics.
Another study from 2013, which was published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, found that using certain mouthwashes may raise a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke.
What Products to Use Instead
So, how can you maintain a healthy oral microbiome and reduce your risk of high blood pressure? First, Hoss suggests that you avoid mouthwashes that have strong menthol flavoring, neon colors, antibacterial or antiseptic properties, and an alcohol base. Instead, look for a mouthwash that contains alkalizing ingredients, such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
You might also consider oil pulling. Terra & Co makes a Gentle Green Oil Pulling product (Buy from Amazon, $39.99) which contains minerals, prebiotics, and antioxidants to feed the good bacteria in your mouth.
Lastly, try switching to a toothpaste that doesn’t contain harsh chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. A couple we like? Mouthwatchers All Natural Whitening Toothpaste (Buy from Mouthwatchers, $6.99) and Dr. Jen’s Super Paste (Buy from Dr. Jen, $22).
Remember: Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime! Protect them with the right oral health routine, and you will help protect the rest of your health, too.
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