You know all about caring for your gut microbiome, perhaps you’ve even invested in a probiotic face cream or serum to protect your skin microbiome, but when was the last time you spared a thought for your oral microbiome? And did you know it’s the second-largest after the gut and houses over 700 different types of bacteria and viruses?
There are plenty of reasons beyond a dazzling smile and fresh breath to look after your the state of your mouth. Poor oral hygiene is linked to premature ageing and may increase your risk of certain diseases, according to biologist Andrew Steele, author of Ageless.
The link lies in inflammation. “Repeated skirmishes with invasive bacteria in your mouth and gums can contribute to longer-term age-related 'chronic inflammation' which puts your immune system in a constant low-level state of agitation that effectively accelerates the ageing process and makes the immune system itself less effective at fighting external threats. It also drives heart disease and diabetes and may be linked to dementia as well.”
In both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, meanwhile, the tongue has been used for thousands of years as a non-invasive way of assessing your inner health. “In TCM it is believed that the tongue is a microcosm of the entire body and by looking at the shape, colour, coating and texture you are able to see any imbalances and deficiencies in the body," say Escapada practitioners Maeve O'Sullivan and Emilia Herting - read their guide on how to read your own tongue here.
The pandemic has encouraged many of us to take a more preventative approach to healthcare, so perhaps it’s time to incorporate a routine to look after our oral microbiome too. With an explosion of new products, and oral hygiene-related searches up 60 per cent on last year, Cult Beauty launched a new Oral Beauty category in January - the edit of 50 products includes Kendall Jenner’s oralcare brand Moon.
Here’s our expert guide to the new planet-friendly products and high-tech devices to know.
Why should you care what’s in your toothpaste? “The lining of your mouth is 50 times more absorbent than your skin,” says Spotlight Oral Care co-founder and dentist Dr Lisa Creaven. “There are things in certain toothpastes that are banned in handsoap and most toothpastes still contain animal products.” All Spotlight products are formulated free from triclosan, sodium lauryl sulphate and parabens, as well as being vegan and ocean-friendly, too.
Most of the dental care products we’re used to go heavy on plastic packaging, but a new wave of eco-friendly brands are making more conscious choices. Spotlight uses toothpaste tubes made from sugarcane and dental floss made using recycled plastic. Brushd sells vegan toothpaste (£4.99), mouthwash (£5.49) and dental vitamins (£8.99) all in tablet form, which come in glass jars significantly reducing plastic use, as well as bamboo interdental brushes (£3.49 for five), recyclable electric toothbrush heads (£5.99) and 100 per cent biodegradable corn-based dental floss (£4.49). Over on Cult Beauty’s new section, Coco Floss creates toxic and cruelty-free dental floss made using coconut oil, fruit oils and vegan wax.
Actives to look out for
While avoiding some chemicals in her formulations, Creaven urges her clients not to shy away from certain active ingredients, which are not naturally-derived but which may support the health of your mouth. Spotlight’s whitening strips (£39.95) - the brand’s hero product - and mouthwash for decay and sensitivity (£12.99) both contain hydrogen peroxide, which Creaven describes as a bit like “retinol for the mouth.”
“It’s used primarily for whitening as it breaks down stains and lightens enamel, but it also rejuvenates the oral tissue and microbiome of your mouth and reduces gum inflammation." If you’re concerned about sensitivity, pay attention to the concentration of products, just like you would a retinoid skincare product, she advises.
The high tech kit
The humble toothbrush has had a techy upgrade, as exemplified in Japanese brand Sanyei’s Ion Sei (£129.99). “It releases negative ions during brushing which repel the negatively charged bacteria, thus delaying reforming of plaque on the tooth surface,” explains dentist Dr Sarah Flannery. “So you don’t even need to use toothpaste with the brush. Move the brush along the gum line at a 45-degree angle along the outside and inside of both the top and bottom set of your teeth, spending around 10 seconds per two teeth,” she recommends.
Flossing just got easier, too. “Not flossing is like washing 65 per cent of the body,” says Creaven. “Flossing is the single best way to control the levels of bacteria in your mouth and the amount of inflammation in the gums.” The gum is the most vulnerable part of your where bacteria can build up and the mouth finds it hard to self-cleanse, she explains. To really up your game, use an electric water flosser such as the Waterpik Cordless Select (£79.99) or Spotlight’s Electric Water Flosser (£89.95, buy here) which uses water pressure and pulses to flush the gums leaving you with that deep clean feeling.
Invest in a tongue scraper
The wellness set have been banging on about tongue scrapers for a while now, but it is genuinely one of the simplest ways to start your day with an element of self-care. Our top pick is Cosmic Dealer’s Ayurvedic tongue cleaner (£21, buy here) which is made of antibacterial copper (and will also just look pretty on your shelfie).
“Scraping has been shown to be up to five times more effective at removing tongue bacteria than a toothbrush - which tends to just move the gunk around the surface of your tongue instead of getting rid of it.“ says Cosmic Dealer founder Monique Foy. “Scrape first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink, to remove the bacteria and toxins that have accumulated on your tongue overnight.” You’ll notice a difference to your breath in days.