Why have we demonized the Oral Microbiome?
From dental cleaning, root scaling, microbiome guided therapy, chlorhexidine, Listerine, Stannous Fluoride. We are all trained to remove, deplete, and kill our mouth bacteria. How can we harness the oral microbiome for good? What should we be doing differently? Should we be microbiome testing our mouths? What would we learn? Would we treat ourselves differently?
As dental professionals the oral microbiome is seen as problematic because oral bacteria can contribute to the development of cavities, periodontal disease, and tooth loss. As we uncover the mysteries of the oral microbiome, we have found that depleting some species with oral care products intended for therapy can cause a depletion in essential nitric oxide, which is essential for heart health; obviously our unique microbiome is nuanced and tricky and I cannot think of a single person more qualified to speak on this subject than Dr. Purnima Kumar, recently named Chair of Periodontics and Oral Medicine at University of Michigan.
We deep dive into Dr. Kumar's (recent) past to lay a foundation of discovery for how we now appreciate the oral microbiome as an ecological system. In the early 2000's Dr. Kumar started researching oral bacteria. This was a time of limited understanding of the bacterial community when we were still very hyper-focused on a few 'bad' bacteria. During her early research years the tools utilized for examination of bacteria quickly became very sophisticated. Dr. Kumar has maintained a frontier approach to her work diving into all aspects of the mouths ecology to bring into focus a very nuanced environment that is not isolated from the rest of the body.