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Probiotics For Oral Health?

You might be more familiar with probiotics for digestion or the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract than for your mouth. Though we don’t often think of our mouths this way, the mouth is the upper end of the GI tract. So it makes sense that probiotics might affect oral problems.

Our bodies contain two types of bacteria: good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics attempt to increase amounts of good bacteria that fight against bad bacteria and are found naturally in foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh and sauerkraut. They are also available as supplements. Though studies of oral probiotics are still in their infancy, what we do know of probiotics shows that they are safe, so even if they don’t help, they probably won’t do any harm.

Why consider probiotic use? Early research shows that probiotics may help decrease cavities and bad breath (halitosis). There may also be effects on gum disease (periodontal disease) and oral thrush (a yeast infection). If you’re a label reader, two of the most promising probiotics for your mouth are S. salivarius, specifically the K12 strain, and B. coagulans. So how do probiotics help? Let’s take a look:

Cavities: Cavities occur when sugar activates oral bacteria that produce acids which eat away at your tooth. Probiotics may increase your body’s ability to detect and repel bad bacteria. They also may protect your teeth against harmful bacteria found in the filmy buildup that is the first step in plaque formation.

Bad Breath: Bad breath usually results from bacteria that produce sulfur compounds. Sometimes the bacteria cause or are trapped in a coating on your tongue. One theory on probiotics is that they kill ulcer-causing and bad-breath-causing bacteria by creating hydrogen peroxide. The K12 strain also seems to clear up coated tongues. Sometimes bad breath results from problems lower in the GI tract, so probiotics designed for the gut may also be helpful.

Gum Disease: Gum disease is a bacterial infection of your gums that causes inflammation, swelling, redness and tenderness. It’s also called periodontal disease, periodontitis and pyorrhea. Probiotics can protect gums against harmful bacteria in dental film buildup. S. salivarius decreases inflammatory chemicals in the body--important since inflammation causes much of the destruction associated with gum disease. B. coagulans increases the body’s ability to detect and repel bad bacteria. It’s important to note that while probiotics have been found to help with effects of gum disease, they have not shown that they prevent development of the disease.

Oral Thrush: Oral thrush or yeast infections are the least studied area in oral probiotic research. Probiotics like acidophilus have been shown to help yeast infections in other parts of the body, so there is hope that probiotics will be effective on this infection as well.

So how should you take probiotics? Some studies suggest taking supplements 1-2 times a day after brushing is the best option on the theory that good oral care just before the introduction of the good bacteria gives them a better environment in which to take hold. Other experts recommend sprinkling probiotics into a liquid that can be swished around the mouth then swallowed. As with any supplement, it may take 3 months or more to see the full effects.

It’s important to note that even though good oral flora may decrease the overall number of your visits to the dental office, you should still follow the ADA’s recommendations and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and exams in addition to brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.

*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.