Exposure to pesticides is a serious risk for farmworkers in both communities served by our West Linn dentistry and in the Willamette Valley wine country. The long-term health consequences are numerous, and now a new study suggests that pesticide exposure can alter an individual’s oral microbiome. This study marks the first time researchers have been able to demonstrate such a correlation in humans.
The results of the study were published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
The Impact on the Oral Microbiome
As part of the study, researchers collected oral swabs from 65 farmworkers and 52 non-farmworkers over the age of 18 that worked in Washington’s Yakima Valley during the spring and summer, a period when farmworkers can potentially receive the highest dose of pesticide exposure while working in recently sprayed orchards, pruning and thinning the fruit; and during the winter, when exposure levels are relatively low. Additionally, researchers also measured the levels of organophosphate pesticides in the study participants.
The most significant finding was that among the farmworkers who tested positive for organophosphate pesticides in their blood, researchers discovered significantly reduced levels of seven different types of common oral bacteria, including Streptococcus, one of the most commonly found bacteria that thrives in the mouth. Changes to the participants’ species, population and strains of Streptococcus remained uncharacteristically low in the winter as well.
Researchers also noted a pesticide-associated spring/summer reduction in the diversity of different oral bacteria in study participants, which continued on into winter, suggesting to researchers that long-lasting effects on the microbiome of the study participants had occurred.
Unsurprisingly, farmworkers exhibited higher signs of pesticides in their bloodwork, and a more significant change in their oral microbiome when compared to the non-farmworkers group.
The challenge now for researchers is to determine what the results of this study actually mean. The human body relies on a healthy and balanced microbiome for a variety of metabolic processes. In other studies, researchers have found that a change in strains and species of Streptococcus have been linked with changes in an individual’s oral health.
Researchers credit the enthusiasm for the research as a major component of why this study has enjoyed so much success in tracking changes in the microbiomes’ of farmworkers. Researchers have been following the same groups of farmworkers for over 10 years, all of whom are greatly interested and invested in what impact pesticides may have on their bodies. This interest has allowed researchers to collect 100 hundreds of cheek samples, dozens of bloods samples and access to home and vehicle dust.
Microbiome’s Role in Your Oral Health
While researchers determine what exactly the long-term impact of an alter microbiome may have on farmworkers exposed to pesticides, the benefits of the research could help shine more light on the microbiome’s role in helping to protect our health.
Our mouths contain billions of strands of bacteria, most of which play a largely beneficial role. However, our mouths also contain harmful bacteria that can contribute to inflammation and oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease. In fact, a strain of Streptococcus has actually been identified as a primary cause of gum disease.
When healthy, our mouths contain an appropriate balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria. However, when significant changes to this balance occur, it’s easy for unhealthy bacteria to takeover. When left unchecked to grow out-of-control, harmful bacteria can slowly erode the foundation of your teeth and gums, leading to the development of gum disease and permanent tooth loss.
While unfortunate on their own, tooth loss and gum disease also increase our risk for even more significant illnesses. Research has found compelling links between our oral health and an increased risk for a variety of chronic diseases that include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, obesity and cancer. Due to the severe risk these types of conditions can have on our long-term health, gaining more insight to what permanent changes to the microbiome can have on the body could produce answers on how we can better protect our health now and into the future. So while this may seem like only a threat to those working in our farmlands, the information gather could actually help many of our West Linn dentistry patients.