It’s important to understand the oral microbiome if we want to properly prevent and treat oral disease. A healthy oral microbiome can help you avoid tooth decay and gum disease, but an unhealthy one can encourage decay and disease. Holistic dentistry teaches us that your oral microbiome is impacted by many aspects of your lifestyle, including your diet and choices like exercise.
Now, new research suggests that it might not be just your lifestyle choices that impact your microbiome. It might be other people’s choices, too. That’s because the household environment could have more impact on your microbiome than your genes.
A Unique Sample Opportunity
Researchers from the University College of London’s Eastman Dental Institute wanted to know how bacteria establish themselves in the mouth. They took advantage of access to a unique sample: DNA and saliva from an extended Ashkenazi Jewish family. This family lived in multiple households spread across four cities in three continents. With the strong genetic link between families in different environments, researchers could make important determinations about the role of genetics and environment. In fact, the DNA of family members had already been sequenced, giving a clear record of variations, and the family’s strong orthodoxy further controlled for certain diet and lifestyle variables.
They looked at the bacterial DNA in samples from 157 family members and 27 unrelated Ashkenazi Jewish controls. They were then able to look at household, city, age, and genetic relatedness to determine which was most responsible for oral microbiome variation.
Early Childhood Environment
They found that, overwhelmingly, living in the same household with people determined that you would have the same oral microbiome. This reflects the fact that our saliva and its oral microbiota tend to get out of our mouth throughout our house. This allows us to essentially “catch” oral microbiota from other people in our house.
The link was strongest between parents and children who were age 10 or less. Older than that, children began to develop their own oral microbiome. This reflects the greater independence they have with time, movement, diet, and friends.
At first, it seemed that genetics might play some role. When looking at related family members, there was a small statistical link. But when they looked at genetic information, they found that genetics didn’t seem to impact bacteria.
The Family That Lives Together
We have long known that there are many strong ties that bind the oral health of the family: diet, exercise, and oral hygiene habits, for example. We have encouraged parents to be good role models for children.
But now it seems that parents’ oral health may have an even more direct impact on their children.