No surprises here: Good oral hygiene can reduce bacteria that contribute to periodontal disease. Researchers found people who flossed and recently visited the dentist had a lower presence of Treponema denticola, a prominent anaerobic periodontal pathogen.
The findings come from a citizen-science study, published in Scientific Reports (February 7, 2020), that enlisted the help of volunteers and museum-goers to see how the oral microbiome varied between members of the general public.
The researchers originally wanted to know how much a person's oral bacteria contributes to his or her sense of sweetness. But the findings on the importance of dental health ended up being much more noteworthy.
"I think how our lives are essentially driven by our microbiomes, and affected by our microbiomes, is interesting, no matter what system we're looking at," stated lead author Zach Burcham, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University, in a press release.
The experiment started in 2015 when staff at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science trained volunteer citizen scientists on how to swab cheek cells from visitors to the museum's Genetics of Taste Lab. During the cheek swab, visitors also answered questions about their demographics and oral hygiene habits.
The volunteers ended up collecting swabs from 366 adults and children. Researchers later sequenced and analyzed the swabs to find associations between oral bacteria and lifestyle habits.
For adults, people who had visited the dentist in the past three months had lower microbial diversity than those hadn't visited the dentist in 12 months or longer. Adults who visited the dentist also had less Treponema denticola.
While dental visits weren't significant for children, children who were obese had distinct oral microbiomes from their peers who were normal weight or overweight. Obese children also had higher levels of Treponema denticola, suggesting a link between childhood obesity and periodontal disease.
Furthermore, adults and children who flossed had lower oral microbial diversity than those who didn't floss. This is likely because flossers physically remove bacteria that can cause inflammation and oral diseases, the researchers noted.
Other findings included that children have more diverse oral microbiomes than adults and that oral bacteria varies greatly from person to person. However, families tend to have more similar microbiomes than strangers, a finding that emphasizes the importance of environmental factors on oral health.
"When you look at families who live together, you find they share more of those rare taxa, the bacteria that aren't found as often in higher abundances," Burcham stated.
The study had some limitations, including that the participants all lived in one, industrialized city. Nevertheless, the results indicated that enlisting the help of citizen scientists could be very useful in oral health and nutrition research.
"Our study also showed that crowdsourcing and using community scientists can be a really good way to get this type of data, without having to use large, case-controlled studies," Burcham stated.