We like to talk a lot about immunity here at H&H but never has it ever been a more important, talked-about topic! The pandemic has got us all thinking about our immunity and how impactful it can be on our overall wellbeing but have you ever considered what your mouth has to do with it all? Quite a bit, according to Immunologist and author, Dr Jenna Macciochi.
We sat down with her recently to discuss her mission to unravel the science around the immune system and help people decode exactly what it takes to be well in the modern-day. She has over 20 years’ experience researching the impact of diet and lifestyle on the immune system and her curiosity about the human body in health and disease has driven her research, deepening her understanding of how what we eat and how we live affects our health and wellbeing.
With diet and lifestyle being key players in good oral health and immunity, we also can’t forget how we look after our mouth on a daily basis. Dr Jenna also recommends making sure your oral hygiene is up to scratch and that means using a brand that’s really got your back. Her top recommendation? Zendium, an environmentally-conscious oral health brand with gentle, SLS-free formulations that not only care for your mouth but mother earth too. Stepping up their sustainable footprint, Zendium has dropped the box from all their toothpaste products and have partnered with Boots to spearhead a new ‘naked’ shelving concept that aims to pave the way for a more sustainable toothpaste aisle. Hell to the yes.
Read on for her insight into oral health and your immune system, her daily oral hygiene practices we should all being implementing and her top Zendium picks to get you on your way to a healthy smile.
H&H: Can you explain why everyone talks about the topic of immunity and what the connection is between our mouth health and our immune health?
Dr Jenna: The immune system is an ecosystem that protects us and keeps us well. It’s comprised of our white blood cells (leukocytes) but also includes specialised organs like the spleen, thymus and lymph nodes and the physical barriers to our bodies such as skin, airways and gut, as well as the microbial communities that live on them.
I like to think of the immune system as our wellness system, your greatest health asset! Immunity runs deep into every aspect of our mental and physical health, with vital roles in keeping us well far beyond just fighting off germs. The oral cavity for example acts as a major gateway into the human body and forms part of our immunity defences. Its specialised environment full of beneficial microbes is in constant interaction with our immune system, with our mouths acting as both a mirror and a gateway to health or disease in the body.
As a gateway, the mouth is considered one of the greatest sources of toxicity and inflammation that is often a neglected but in fact acts as an integral contributor to our systemic health. And like the vital role played by the gut microbiome, our mouths have their very own natural defence system: the oral microbiome.
H&H: We’ve been hearing more and more about the microbiome in conversations about immunity. Can you please explain what the microbiome is exactly and why is it important to have a good balance of bacteria for overall health & wellbeing?
Dr Jenna: The term microbiome refers to the collection of trillions of microbes that exist on and inside our bodies. Our microbiome and immune cells are in constant communication, and it is actually the microbiome that is responsible for training and educating our immune system, a process that starts from birth.
A more diverse microbiome essentially means better coaching of your immune cells. In fact, without your microbiome, our immunity would be pretty inefficient. This means when you look after your microbiome, you are also, in turn, helping to support your immune system.
Because of the prominent role played by the microbiome to our immune system, gut health, in particular, has been the focus of many studies over the past decade. But more recently growing research has shown that the mouth also harbours its own unique microbiome, containing approx. two billion bacteria of which there are over 700 different species. As our mouths are often our first point of contact with infectious germs, it is important we strive to support this delicate ecosystem of bacteria through a healthy, balanced microbiome.
H&H: What does a good balance of bacteria mean for our mouth health?
Dr Jenna: With our new understanding of the oral microbiome, we know that that having a healthy oral hygiene routine not only helps prevent oral issues like decay, gum disease but also has wide-reaching effects on whole-body health, including how well the immune system functions.
When the microbiome is imbalanced, high levels of pathogenic bacteria can cause chronic low-grade inflammation in other parts of the body. Patients with gum disease are three times more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, three times more likely to be obese, three times more likely to suffer from heart disease and 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
If our microbiome is balanced and healthy, this, in turn, helps improve our overall health. There are so many different types of bacteria that all work in harmony that they generally prevent the overgrowth of one particular bacteria and therefore imbalance. If, however, patients don’t brush as well as they should, pick up unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking/ poor diet, take medications that dry their mouth etc, imbalance occurs and certain bacteria can overgrow and become pathogenic/ bad. This will allow for oral disease.
By using products with prebiotic inspired ingredients, we boost our mouth’s defence system and allow balance to be restored, which essentially give the good bacteria the ‘energy/food’ to overcome this imbalance/ overgrowth and restore balance.
H&H: What actions can we do to strengthen our mouth’s natural defence system?
Dr Jenna: My first action to take would be to use gentle but effective oral hygiene products that are microbiome friendly and designed to nurture the mouth’s bacterial ecosystem – not fight against it.
My family and I use Zendium, a brand specifically aimed at caring for the mouth through the actions of mild, yet effective, natural active enzymes and proteins that deliver a prebiotic benefit, helping good bacteria of the oral cavity to flourish.
It is important to avoid harsh ingredients like SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate), a foaming agent which can irritate the mouth and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in our oral microbiome.
The other preventative actions I’d suggest helping nurture oral health in supporting our mouth-body connection include:
- Getting regular dental checks. Your dentist can pick up early signs of gum disease.
- Cut down on foods that contain “free sugars”. These are the sugars added to foods like biscuits, flavoured yoghurts and some sauces as well as honey and syrups but not the sugars found naturally in fruit.
- Floss before brushing
- And remember that the food we eat is not only nourishing us, but our oral microbes too. A nutrient-rich diet, with a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables will help nurture the oral microbiome
- Finally it’s also important to use products that are not only kinder to our mouths but kinder to the planet. I like Zendium Classic Toothpaste that uses fully recyclable packaging made from 60% plant-based bioplastic from sugar canes. The brand has also recently removed the cardboard box from all toothpaste tubes which is a great move towards a more sustainable mouth care routine for all the family
H&H: What are some of the craziest health trends specifically regarding our immunity defences that you’ve heard and want to dismiss?
Dr Jenna: Good question! The pandemic has definitely brought the weird and wonderful to the surface when it comes to immunity trends. I think there is a lot of emphases put on immunity juices and shots (small servings of concentrated juice consisting of ingredients considered to be good for the immune system).
There is no doubt that many fruits and vegetables are healthy, nutritious, and particularly good at strengthening our immune system, but crazes such as juicing can remove the fibre. I’d recommend eating these foods as part of our meals vs liquid form, which is important to nourish and support our microbiome.
There is also a lot of enthusiasm for targeted supplementation with nutrients like vitamin C and Zinc – both of which play key roles in the proper functioning of our immune system. But if you are not deficient in these, there is little point in supplementing. I’d save your money and invest in eating a healthy diet instead.