Your oral health is impacted by the presence of parasitic bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria are responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. But not all bacteria are parasitic and damaging. Some can actually be helpful, and if you can encourage the growth of helpful bacteria, known as probiotics, you may experience a positive impact in your oral health.
How Probiotics Help
You probably don’t think of your mouth as an ecosystem, but it is, one in which all the organisms are competing over limited resources of food and space. Often, parasitic organisms like Streptococcus mutans win out because they are willing to “play dirty,” doing things like excreting acid that damages your teeth and gums while making the environment more suitable for them.
But probiotic organisms, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species have their own tricks. When they’re introduced into the oral cavity, they take up some of the space from parasitic species, preventing them from growing on your teeth. They also consume some of the nutrients in the oral cavity, making less available for the parasites. And they excrete antibiotic compounds intended to impair the growth of parasitic species.
The Impact of Probiotics
So what can probiotics do for you? Several studies have investigated the impact of probiotics on oral health and they’ve found that they can make a significant difference in several areas of your oral health. First, they can reduce your risk of cavities, although we don’t know how much. Studies show that probiotics can reduce the amount of cavity-forming bacteria in your mouth, but they’ve not been long enough to show the difference in cavity formation.
With gum disease, we’ve seen more conclusive results. Not only do probiotics help prevent gum disease, they can be used to support gum disease treatment, improving healing after scaling and root planing.
And probiotics can help protect dental implants from infection, as well. This makes sense since peri-implantitis is basically the same as gum disease, but around dental implants rather than your teeth.
How to Use Probiotics
It’s important to understand that most probiotic supplements are designed for intestinal health, not oral health, so taking them won’t necessarily improve your oral health. Instead, it’s best to just add probiotic foods to your diet. The most common is yogurt, which, if it contains live cultures, can be very helpful.
There are some oral healthcare products that include probiotics, and we can recommend some that our patients like.
If you would like to discuss probiotics or other oral healthcare approaches with a dentist in the San Jose area, please call (408) 354-5600 for an appointment at Top Down Dental in Los Gatos.