The science of microbial ecology is the study of microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, and their relationship to each other and with the environment in which they live. Besides bacteria and viruses microbial ecology is concerned with single celled animals, plants and fungi, the science includes single and multicellular celled organisms with and without a nucleus.
The study of microbial ecology is concerned with how microbes behave. Many microorganisms live in a symbiotic relationship, in which the microscopic animals and plants live together in harmony, even though they are of different species, while other microorganisms are symbiotic with the host. We see the evidence of microbial ecology in the field of dentistry. Many microorganisms in the mouth are normal flora, while others populate on the teeth and go into a symbiotic relationship with the human host. The organisms live and die on the teeth. The skeletal remains of the bacteria on the teeth forms plaque on the teeth. Plaque doesn’t come off by brushing, it takes a dentist or periodon’tist to remove plaque from the teeth with periodon’tal care.
Microbial ecology in dentistry is primarily about balance of normal flora, the good germs in the mouth, to prevent infection. The use of antibiotics can kill the good germs along with the harmful ones, so that there becomes an imbalance which can cause a major infection in the mouth, which could spread systemically to the rest of the body. At one time doctors and dentists gave antibiotics with every complaint, but we have seen through experience that by taking antibiotics too frequently, we lose our ability to fight disease with our own immune systems. By treating every threat of infection with an antibiotic we create a super-bug that is resistant to antibiotics.
With the research gained from the science of microbial ecology we have learned to allow the body to heal itself, and not to help it unless we present significant signs of infection. Now doctors and dentists will not be so quick to order an antibiotic unless there is a fever of 101 degrees or above, with the exceptions of surgery. Antibiotics will most likely be given for surgery, or if there is an infection that will not likely go away without the help of antibiotic therapy.
The science of microbial ecology studies microorganisms that are normal flora in one part of the body but pathogenic in another part of the body. For instance, Staph is normal flora on the hands, but if we put our finger in our eyes to rub them when we are tired we run the risk of getting a staph infection in our eyes. E. coli is normal flora to the lower intestine, however this bacteria can be very dangerous when hands are not washed properly. Our hands touch everything, we touch door handles, water faucet handles, and then we eat with our hands. Children and older people are most at risk of e-coli infections, if the organism is ingested it can cause diarrhea, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and bloody stools.
By studying how microorganisms live and behave, microbial ecology researchers have discovered how to better promote health.