Open Wide and Say Probiotic!
We drill down on probiotics for the mouth
What does the dentist get at the end of the year? A little plaque. But seriously, mouth health is important, especially as we’re starting to understand how inflammation in that area can lead to a host of medical problems elsewhere in the body. You may have been hearing a lot about probiotics specifically for mouth health lately, and wondering: Do I want these? Do I need these? For this week’s Healthy Habit, I looked into this, and here’s what I found out.
- What are mouth probiotics? Just as probiotics can be good for gut health, which is why we reach for fermented foods, these “helpful microorganisms” can also help in our mouths. The FDA has not yet approved any probiotics for treatment or prevention of disease, but there is a lot of ongoing research in this field.
- Do probiotics prevent cavities? Maybe. For example, in 2016, University of Florida researchers found a previously unidentified stain of Streptococcus bacteria, called A12. It seems to kill off bad bacteria in the mouth and helps create a more neutral (less acidic) environment, which makes getting cavities less likely. The researchers received a five-year grant to look into this further, with a larger sample of human test subjects.
- Do probiotics help with bad breath? Possibly. Research is being done on Streptococcus salivarius K12 for use as a treatment for halitosis. In the meantime, the probiotic was conclusively found to help children ward off strep throat and tonsillitis, when given as a slow-release tablet.
- Can probiotics cure gum disease? Yes. According to some clinical trials of people and animals, chronic periodontitis was improved by probiotic use. Patients experienced less gum inflammation and bleeding when undergoing a dental exam and had less pro-inflammatory markers in their saliva and the fluids in their gum pockets.
Okay, but how do I take them?
Probiotics for mouth health are available as tablets, mints, lozenges, gums, mouthwashes, retainer rinses and toothpastes. One dentist even provided his own DIY probiotic toothpaste recipe.
Which ones are best for me?
Dr. Steven Lin, author of The Dental Diet, wrote an excellent piece on this and here’s a handy chart on how he breaks it down:
- S.Salivarous K12
- S.Salivarous M18
For Gingivitis (bleeding gums)
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
For Gum disease treatment
- Lactobacilli reuteri
- Lactobacilli Brevis
But before you embark on a probiotic buying spree, check in with your own dentist. One, you should have a baseline assessment and discuss which issues might need addressing. Two, people with certain medical conditions should not use probiotics at all, so as always, it’s good to get medical advice before embarking on a new health routine.