Pesticides have come under fire for their role in the decimation of honeybee populations and the harm they inflict on valuable pollinator insect species. In fact, over 50 different types of pesticides have been linked to massive declines in bee numbers.

New research has found that bees are not the only bugs that can be harmed by pesticide use. The beneficial bacteria that inhabit the human mouth are also subject to the harms of pesticide exposure. It may seem trivial, but these bacteria make up what is known as the “oral microbiome,” and it is every bit as important as the microbiome of the intestines.

There are hundreds of bacterial populations that can inhabit the mouth, with a delicate balance being struck between friendly and potentially pathogenic species.

The study, which was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that there was a link between pesticide exposure and the ruination of a healthy oral microbiome. Many pesticides are thought to be harmful in some way, shape or form, but this study has put a spotlight on the oral microbiome, which is thought to play a valuable role in human health.

Researchers from Washington University led the study, which focused on examining the “oral buccal microbiota” – or the bacterial populations found on the inner cheeks – of 65 farm workers and 52 non-farm worker participants. The team wanted to see if pesticide exposure had any influence on their oral microbiota.

Blood and cheek samples were collected from the participants during the spring and summer of 2005, as well as the winter of 2006.

Two discoveries were made: Not only did the farmers have higher amounts of pesticides circulating in their bloodstreams, but they also exhibited greater changes to their oral bacteria populations. The researchers noted, “We found a seasonally persistent association between the detected blood concentration of the insecticide Azinphos-methyl and the taxonomic composition of the buccal swab oral microbiome.” This essentially means that the researchers found an association between the amount of pesticides in the blood and the composition of the oral microbiome, and this association persisted even into winter — which suggests a fairly long-term effect.

The research team wrote, “In this study we show in human subjects that organophosphate pesticide exposure is associated with large-scale significant alterations of the oral buccal microbiota composition with extinctions of whole genera suggested in some individuals. ”

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