LivingOral microbiota: factors and diseases that affect

Oral microbiota: factors and diseases that affect

The microbiota (also referred to as the microbiome) is the set of microorganisms that inhabit our body and interact with our cells. The oral microbiota encompasses those microorganisms that have permanent residence in the oral cavity and that can perform various functions.

What is the function of the oral microbiota?

The study of the microbiota is a very broad and complex field, as it encompasses hundreds of different species of microorganisms. Among them we find viruses, bacteria and fungi. In addition to the great microbial diversity , there are many differences between individuals , which further complicates finding disease relationships.

In the case of the oral microbiota, there are studies that have found relationships between some species of bacteria or fungi and the development of oral infections. A clear example is periodontitis , an infection of the gums that can even cause teeth to fall out.

Although correct oral hygiene can help prevent periodontitis, the presence of an incorrect oral microbiota is also decisive. The relationship between the oral microbiota and other diseases is not so clear, and for this reason, studies like this one are of great importance.

What type of microorganisms are found in the oral cavity?

In this Spanish study published in the scientific journal Biofilms and Microbiomes , associated with Nature , they have taken samples of the oral microbiota of 1648 individuals to determine which species of microorganisms they presented. Later, they have tried to find relationships with different aspects of their lifestyle or diseases.

Among the most relevant results we found that the diversity of species that inhabit our mouths varies throughout our lives . In general terms, a poorly varied microbiota is usually associated with different diseases. In the case of the oral microbiota, it seems that the low diversity between adolescence and old age does not present a problem in itself.

However, what does seem relevant is the type of microbiota that dominates the oral cavity, specifically during old age . The presence of some bacteria can modify the microenvironment and allow recurrent infections to occur, such as periodontitis.

Although more studies are needed to find the mechanism of action of these species of microorganisms and associated diseases, this evidence confirms that a specific microbiota can help prevent some of them.

How is the oral microbiota acquired?

“We are what we eat” is an expression that could be applied in the context of the oral microbiota. In this study he has also found that the oral microbiota of roommates or classmates has a high degree of similarity .

Interaction and close contact with other people for long periods of time, such as an entire semester, allows the transfer of microorganisms between people.

Food is another important source of the microbiota, as some studies have shown that a diet based on fast and ultra-processed food had a negative impact on the gut microbiota.

Even having pets or our daily habits, such as smoking , can change our microbiota. Some routines are beneficial by increasing diversity, but others can be detrimental by decreasing diversity or allowing harmful bacterial species to enter.

What factors modify the oral microbiota?

In this study they have found some factors that are related to a damaged or potentially harmful oral microbiota. Among the parameters that most affect are chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis , celiac disease or people with Down syndrome .

It was also found that smokers had reduced microbial diversity , as well as a high presence of two Candida -type fungi , which can cause oral infections. In all these cases, as we have already mentioned, not only the loss of diversity has an influence, but also the presence of specific species that can be harmful.

It is important to emphasize that these results are observational since they are based on associating the presence of some species of microorganisms with diseases or routines known by the participants. Therefore, identifying the mechanism of action is not possible with this type of study.

It is possible that the bacteria or fungi detected in smokers or patients with celiac disease is a reflection or consequence of a previous pathology, and not the cause of the disease or infection. It is tremendously difficult to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg, the bacteria or the disease.

Despite the limitations of the study, it is key to deciding what future research can be carried out in this field, since some microbial species associated with certain diseases have appeared.

In addition, collecting a sample of the oral microbiota is a minimally invasive technique that can give us clues about the health of the entire digestive tract , since everything that reaches the intestine has necessarily passed through the mouth.


Willis et al. 2022. Citizen-science reveals changes in the oral microbiome in Spain

through age and lifestyle factors. NP J Biofilms Microbiomes. doi: 0.1038/s41522-022-00279-y

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