World Oral Health Day: keeping your mouth happy and healthy

Posted on March 20, 2024   by Microbiology Society

20 March is World Oral Health Day – an annual initiative that raises the awareness of oral health diseases and risks, as well as empowering people with the knowledge and equipment needed to achieve good oral hygiene. Society Champion and pharmaceutical microbiologist – specialising in One Health, antimicrobial resistance and natural products, Bamidele Odumosu (University of Lagos, Nigeria), has shared a blog on the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene and the role that microbes play in a person’s mouth.


iStock/Andrii Zastrozhnov
Bamidele Odumosu in a tuxedo
© Bamidele Odumosu

A microbiologist's perspective: part one

This year's theme is ‘Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body’, which perfectly captures the crucial link between oral health and overall well-being. The mouth, otherwise known as the oral cavity, is a house to numerous microorganisms forming a diverse community known as the oral microbiome, which exists in the form of a biofilm [1] . They play a crucial role in maintaining the mouth ecosystem, especially by balancing the beneficial (symbionts and commensals) and non-beneficial (pathogenic species) populations to the best interest of the host. Studies have shown that poor oral health, which is the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, can lead to plaque formation, gingivitis and even serious conditions like periodontal disease. This disease has been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's [2]. Taking care of your oral hygiene is not just about having a sparkly smile – it's about investing in your overall health.

The state of oral health worldwide

Unfortunately, the global picture of oral health is not all sunshine and rainbows. Data from the World Health Organization in 2023 suggested that over three billion people suffered from oral diseases – with many lacking access to proper dental care [3]. This highlights the importance of raising awareness and promoting preventive measures. Here is where the fascinating world of microbiology and its application comes into play. Scientists are tirelessly investigating the complex interactions between different oral bacteria and how they influence our health[4], [5]. By understanding these microbial ecosystems, we can develop targeted strategies to promote the oral microbiome and keep the pathogens in check.

For instance, researchers are exploring various ways to restore microbial balance and prevent oral diseases using the oral microbiome to revolutionise oral health, including how we care for the teeth and the gums. One key player in this is probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that compete with harmful ones, thereby promoting a healthier balance. Lozenges, mouthwashes and tablets deliver them directly, while fermented foods like yogurt offer dietary options for probiotics. Research is constantly evolving to find the best strains and delivery methods for maximum impact [6]. Though, it's not just about adding good bacteria. Prebiotics, found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, act as food for existing probiotics, boosting their activity [7]. Think about prebiotics as fertilisers in the garden that help plants grow strong and healthy, prebiotics also help oral bacteria thrive and by consuming foods rich in prebiotics, these microbiomes can obtain the nutrients they need to multiply and produce beneficial substances for the mouth. Scientists are even exploring incorporating them into toothpaste and mouthwashes for a natural boost [8].

A microbiologist's perspective: part two

On a quest for more knowledge on oral hygiene and creating more awareness, particularly  in rural areas of Nigeria –  we carried out a survey on different localities who engage in natural means of maintaining oral health. Our survey was based on the firsthand knowledge of different communities in Nigeria and their preference to use chewing sticks, rather than the conventional toothbrush and paste. Their preference was based on historical claims and beliefs that early Africans gained healthy teeth with minimal instances of tooth decay, which they attributed to chewing sticks.

These chewing sticks are made either from: tree stems, sliced branches of trees or shrubs containing antibacterial and astringent properties. Some commonly used plants include Zanthoxylum xanthoxyloides, Terminalia catappa and Azadirachta indica (neem). These various medicinal plants are found in Nigeria and some other parts of the world.

These local claims motivated us to carry out a study to validate their use and provide scientific basis for their oral maintenance. We investigated the antibacterial and antifungal properties of selected Nigerian chewing sticks against Streptococcus mutans (notorious for ‘dental caries’) and different species of Candida [9],[10]. Our studies revealed that the selected chewing sticks can be effective in reducing plaque formation and eliminating selected oral pathogens associated with dental caries and mouth infections. We also noted the presence of active principles from the plant, such as tannins, alkaloids and saponins with previously established antimicrobial properties. We assumed some of the antimicrobial activities were caused by the chewing sticks.

Modern science and traditional science for oral care can be investigated for optimum oral care.  As for the chewing sticks, further research is needed to fully understand their long-term effects and optimal use. As interest in natural oral care methods grow, chewing sticks offer a fascinating subject for continued exploration alongside conventional dental practices. Let’s therefore, celebrate World Oral Health Day by working towards a future where everyone has access to the knowledge and resources needed for a healthy mouth and a happy, healthy life!

To find out more about Champions like Bamidele, based all over the world, take a look at our Meet our Champions webpage.

Thumbnail credit: iStock/Andrii Zastrozhnov


  1. Gao L, Xu T, Huang G, Jiang S, Gu Y, Chen F, et al. Oral microbiomes: More and more importance in oral cavity and whole body. Protein Cell. 2018;9:488-500
  2. Borsa L, Dubois M, Sacco G, Lupi L. Analysis the link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer's Disease: A systematic review. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2021 18;17:9312
  3. World Health Organization: Oral Health. 2023. Date Accessed 18/03/2024
  4. Bowland GB and Weyrich LS. The oral-microbiome-brain axis and neuropsychiatric disorder: An anthropological perspective. Front. Psychiatry 13:810008
  5. Jesse RW and Toni G. The human oral microbiome in health and disease : From sequences to ecosystem. Microorganisms. 2020 8;2:308
  6. Wannes VH, Katalina L et al. Probiotics for oral health: do they deliver what they promise? Font. Microbial 2023; 14: 1219692
  7. Valero-Cases, E., Cerdá-Bernad, D., Pastor, J.J. and Frutos, M.J., 2020. Non-dairy fermented beverages as potential carriers to ensure probiotics, prebiotics, and bioactive compounds arrival to the gut and their health benefits. Nutrients, 12(6), p.1666.
  8. Seminario-Amez, M., López-López, J., Estrugo-Devesa, A., Ayuso-Montero, R. and Jané-Salas, E., 2017. Probiotics and oral health: A systematic review. Medicina oral, patologia oral y cirugia bucal, 22(3), p.e282.
  9. Adeniyi CB, Odumosu BT, Ayelaagbe OO, Kolude B. In-vitro antimicrobial activities of methanol extracts of Zanthoxylum xanthoxyloides and Pseudocedrela kotschyi. African Journal of Biomedical Research. 2010;13(1):61-8.
  10. Adeniyi CB, Odumosu BT. Antibacterial and antifungal properties of Distemonanthus benthamianus (Fabaceae) crude extract. Glob J Pharm Res. 2012;1(4):567-74.