By Barbara Tritz, BRDH
You brush. You floss. You do everything your dental hygienist tells you to do. But you still have cavities, bad breath, or tender, bleeding gums. What gives? Is there something you’re missing?
If you haven’t yet discovered probiotics for your mouth, then the answer to that question could be an emphatic “Yes!” Welcome to the new frontier of 21st-century smart medicine: oral probiotics.
Probiotics for your mouth?
Oral probiotics are living organisms that research shows provide considerable health benefits. By promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppressing the growth of harmful ones, probiotics can help restore balance to the oral microbiome — allowing these healthier bugs to recolonize the surfaces of the mouth and teeth.
While probiotics designed specifically for the mouth are fairly new, probiotic supplements, in general, are extremely safe to use. (That said, it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements, especially if you have a compromised immune system). And just like probiotics help keep the gut healthy, probiotics for the mouth can help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Meet Your Oral Microbiome
Like the microbiome in your gut, your mouth is home to a bustling metropolis of bacteria. Some 700 to 1,000 different bacterial species – plus viruses, candida, and other microbes – make their home in the oral cavity.
These microbes are a mix of both good (beneficial) and bad (harmful) bacteria. They impact not only the health of your teeth and gums but, ultimately, your whole-body health. That’s because you swallow upwards of one trillion bacteria daily — which means the microbes that reside in your mouth also make it to your gut. And your gut is where 70-80% of your immune cells live.1
Bacteria are essential for life. We need them as much as they need us. In a healthy mouth, 99% of the bacteria that colonize the hard and soft surfaces of the oral cavity are actually necessary for maintaining good oral health. These friendly bacteria have many important jobs to do, such as protecting you from bad germs, making vitamins, regulating and strengthening your immune system, and producing substances that help regulate a healthy inflammatory response.2,3 These beneficial bacteria can even help you lose weight.4
Like the microbiome in your gut, your oral microbiome is an ecology that craves balance and diversity. The more diverse and abundant the beneficial flora in your mouth, the healthier you are in general.
Tooth decay, bleeding gums, and bad breath are all signs that your oral microbiome is out of balance. The “bad” guys have invaded, elbowing out the good bacteria and taken over — establishing an unbalanced environment that is “dysbiotic.”
Biofilm — the sticky colonies of bacteria (plaque is a biofilm) that live on and around the surfaces in your mouth — grow and proliferate. Brushing really can’t reach all the places where these bad bugs live (your gums, teeth, tongue, throat, and tonsils), so this dysbiosis continues.
It’s All About the Strains
Probiotics for the mouth contain live microorganisms encapsulated in a tablet or lozenge that slowly dissolves in your mouth. Once mixed with your saliva, these “good bugs” can reach all the nooks and crannies where the bad bacteria hide. By introducing them to the oral microbiome, the mouth is “re-inoculated” with these health-promoting bacteria.
Just like probiotics for the gut, probiotics for the mouth can combine different probiotic species and strains in different amounts (measured in colony-forming units, or CFU). So, it’s important to consider the species and strains when deciding on an oral probiotic supplement.
The following oral probiotics are noted for their research-backed oral health benefits:
- Lactobacillus paracasei — Reduces Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria known to cause tooth decay.5
- Lactobacillus salivarius: Inhibits both S. mutans and Candida albicans, bacteria associated with dental caries (cavities) and plaque formation.6
- Lactobacillus reuteri: Inhibits plaque formation and supports a healthy inflammatory response, microbial balance, and periodontal health.7,8 This strain has also been found to inhibit the bacteria that cause bad breath.9
- BLIS M18® Streptococcal salivarius: Inhibits decay-causing bacteria, increases pH, and reduces plaque formation.10
Oral probiotics offer a great way to increase the effectiveness of your oral hygiene routine. These supplements work best when used after brushing, oral irrigation, and flossing (as well as in conjunction with regular visits to your dental health professional to physically remove plaque buildup). By “seeding” your oral cavity with beneficial bacteria, oral probiotics can help you maintain a balanced oral microbiome and support your overall wellness. Gentle, 21st-century medicine that’s easy to swallow!