Probiotics have been a hot topic in health and medicine circles in recent years. As our understanding of them increases, we continue to find additional ways they can benefit our bodies and our health. One recent body of evidence suggests that taking oral probiotics may actually be of benefit to our oral health and serve as a natural way to hold off tooth decay. If you’re curious how these microbes are able to provide a meaningful benefit to your oral health, it’s important that you understand the underlying causes of tooth decay.
Tooth Decay May Not Be What You Think It Is
When most dental patients think about tooth decay, their first thought involves the action of sugar and acid on our enamel. While this is definitely one element of tooth decay, it’s not the central driving element. Our mouths are complex biomes containing hundreds of species of bacteria, some of which are actually beneficial to our health. When you start experiencing tooth decay, you are actually experiencing what can be thought of as an imbalance in your mouth’s microbiome. So how do probiotics help with this? They can:
- Compete against the bacteria that cause tooth decay and can slow the growth of these bacteria
- Inhabit the plaque on our teeth, battling the bad bacteria that take up residence there to harm our teeth
- Help in the production of enzymes and antimicrobials that can kill harmful oral bacteria
- Boost the response of the immune system to harmful oral bacteria
- Heal our mouths by acting as anti-inflammatories
As you can see, probiotics play several important roles in the health of our oral microbiome. While they can’t eliminate the presence of decay-causing bacteria on their own, they’re an excellent bonus. Other steps you can employ include maintaining a regular routine of oral hygiene involving brushing, flossing, and the use of mouthwash. Reducing our sugar intake remains a good idea, as most of the bad bacteria in our mouths act on these substances.
Meet Your Oral Probiotics
While probiotics aren’t able to single-handedly eliminate the advance of tooth decay and biofilm, they are capable of lending a significant hand. Streptococcus mutans is well known for its role in promoting tooth decay, but the good guys of your oral microbiome are largely unknown. Let’s make some introductions:
- Bifidobacterium – These bacteria live in our digestive tract and have demonstrated the ability to slow down the advance of tooth decay.
- Enterococcus faecium – Another resident of our digestive tract, it has been shown to prevent biofilm generation by the streptococcus mutans bacteria.
- W. Cibaria – This probiotic has been shown to counteract the growth of oral biofilm by producing lactic acid.
These are just some of the potentially hundreds of probiotics that are capable of providing support to our oral microbiome. They can be obtained through a variety of sources, from supplements to changes in diet that include probiotic yogurt and milk products. Talk to your dentist to determine if probiotics are capable of helping your teeth.