After uncovering an abundance of beneficial health outcomes of beetroot juice, scientists at the University of Exeter continue probing the rockstar beetroot for more health secrets. This time, the oral microbiota is in the hot seat. Let's take a look at why a healthy oral microbiome is important and how diet can make or break oral and overall health.
What is the oral microbiome?
Before we dive into the impact of nitrate on oral health, let's explore what an oral microbiome is. The mouth is a complex habitat for nearly 700 species of bacteria alone. Those bacteria are accompanied by other microorganisms that make up what is called the "oral microbiome" - our mouth garden. Microorganisms that comprise our oral microbiome include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. After the gut, the mouth is the second-largest community of microorganisms for humans. Containing a well-balanced microbiome in our mouth means that the garden is balanced, containing indigenous bacteria that are symbiotic or beneficial in nature, not overtaking the garden -- this balance is called a "commensal oral microbiome." When the oral garden is disrupted by an overgrowth of "bad" microorganisms or a reduction on "good" microorganisms, the commensal oral microbiome turns into a "dysbiotic oral microbiome," which is an imbalance of microorganisms.
Needless to say, we want to maintain homeostasis in our mouth by taking care to cultivate a commensal oral microbiome at all times. How do we do this? Through the food we eat. And this is what scientists are starting to explore. Let's dive deeper into how beetroot, red spinach and other nitrate-rich foods are being studied for maintaining oral health.
Fun Fact. Researchers are reconstructing the oral microbiome of neanderthals, paleolithic and modern humans -- the findings so far shared some of the core species that play a role in oral health and have been around for 40 million years.
How does nutrition affect oral health?
Researchers from the University of Exeter studied 26 healthy individuals aged 70-80, splitting the groups into two. One group was given a diet that contained beetroot juice; the control group was given a nitrate-free placebo twice daily for ten days. The results showed that inflammation precursor bacteria (Prevotella-Veillonella) was diminished. In contrast, the bacteria associated with periodontal health, young age, low BMI, and non-smoking (Neisseria-Haemophilus) was increased. An interesting note is that the increase in these good bacteria was found in even higher quantities in those studied that ate a vegan diet versus an omnivorous diet; the increase was assumed to be the difference in the amount of dietary nitrate found in each diet.
"We are really excited about these findings, which have important implications for healthy aging. Our findings suggest that adding nitrate-rich foods to the diet – in this case via beetroot juice – for just ten days can substantially alter the oral microbiome for the better." - Anni Vanhatalo, Ph.D.
How can diet affect oral health?
Diet is a foremost concern when it comes to oral health. We know this from childhood, when we were told not to eat too much candy or sweets because - hello cavities. Cavities are directly associated with the proliferation of the bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, tooth decay. The food we eat directly impacts our oral health for the best and for the worse. The mechanisms in our mouths that process foods leverage our microbiome for breaking down those foods. If your diet is poor, or if it's omnivorous, you might tend toward a dysbiotic oral microbiome. If your diet is rich in plant-based meals, you're helping your oral hygiene. Science is uncovering the benefits of increased dietary nitrate, found in a plant-based diet, which can benefit oral health by acting as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are foods that help the growth and sustenance of beneficial microorganisms.
What foods are good as a Nitrate Prebiotic for Oral Health?
Foods that are great for oral health include those that are high in dietary nitrate. Chewing, drinking, and consuming nitrate-rich vegetables and fruits helps regulate the microorganisms in our mouths. Some foods you want to eat regularly include:
- Beetroot juice
- Leafy greens
- Red spinach
- Chinese cabbage
As far as fruits go, they don't quite compare to the nitrate concentration of their vegetable counterparts, but they do amp up and help maintain nitric oxide in the bloodstream by means of their antioxidant abilities. Since nitric oxide is an unstable molecule it quickly breaks down in the bloodstream, which is why it must be replenished daily. Fruits contain antioxidants that neutralize free radicals, helping to stabilize the gas, making it last longer.
- Tart cherries
How can I improve my oral health fast?
Leverage the power of nitrate as a prebiotic for oral health. Surprisingly, the same efforts you would take to increase nitric oxide production in your body are the same measures to improve oral health.
- Eat a nitrate-rich diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid excessive and added sugars
- Minimize processed foods
- Get better sleep
- Avoid fluoride toothpaste and OTC mouthwash
- Drink beet juice
Another quick jolt to your oral health is to follow the study that delivered daily beetroot juice to participants who saw an improvement in their oral microbiome. You can leverage the power of beets daily with Beet Boost by adding a scoop every morning to your favorite juice or breakfast recipe.