6 Benefits of Oral Probiotics
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are considered to be ‘friendly’ or ‘good’ versions of living bacteria and yeasts. They can be found in food ingredients or supplements and can contain a range of different microorganisms, the most common types belonging to groups called Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
These microbes thrive in areas of the body that include the colon, small intestines, and mouth and they’re fed by prebiotics, a type of fiber that human bodies can’t digest but also support healthy bacteria.
While probiotics have been associated with gut health and the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases, they’ve recently been explored for their oral health benefits. When it comes to protecting your oral microbiome, probiotics might be just the thing for that perfect balance.
Oral Health Benefits of Probiotics
While it may come as a surprise, most humans experience the benefits of probiotics for oral health early on in life. The oral cavity of babies and infants is exposed to the two most common genera, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, as they’re found in breast milk.
As adults, however, more of us are beginning to use probiotics for teeth as studies have linked them to several benefits.
1. Prevent Plaque
Researchers have connected probiotics to a plaque response, called the “ecological plaque hypothesis.” This suggests that environmental conditions (i.e. the introduction of a probiotic) can change the balance of bacteria in dental plaque, leading to a healthier environment in the mouth that reduces risk of cavities and plaque.
2. Prevention or Treatment of Oral Diseases
Similarly, probiotics are understood to protect the oral cavity from infections. Just like there are some “bad” bacteria that are associated with oral diseases, there are also “good” bacteria that are associated with oral health.
When more healthy bacteria colonize the mouth, they’re able to fight off the bad bacteria associated with disease. For example, studies have found a reduction in oral cancer when rats given a Lactobacillus strain probiotic.
3. Potential Reduction of Caries-Associated Microbes
As just one example of bad bacteria being associated with disease, the presence of mutans streptococci in saliva has been associated with increased risk of dental caries (cavities).
While the effects on caries are inconclusive, several studies have found that both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria reduce the number of this potentially dangerous microbe, and may have the potential to minimize the risk of dental caries.
4. Treatment of Periodontal Inflammation
Probiotics have also been known to support healthier gums. When people with a range of periodontal diseases, gingivitis, and periodontitis were treated with a L. acidophilus strain, significant improvement was reported for almost each person in the study.
Since then, other probiotic strains have been studied, many significantly reducing gum bleeding and improving gum health.
5. Curb Oral Candida
Candida is a type of fungus that normally lives in the body (including in the mouth). Unfortunately, when it grows out of control as a result of diet, antibiotics, chronic stress, or alcohol, it can lead to candidiasis (thrush), a fungal infection that can enter other parts of the body and cause illness.
While only a few studies have investigated it, probiotics have been associated with a reduction in yeast counts.
6. Improve Halitosis Symptoms
While it can also be a result of oral disease, it’s been estimated that around 90% of halitosis cases originate in the oral cavity. When investigating dental probiotics for bad breath (halitosis), researchers have found that there are a few strains that work to curb it.
Gram-negative anaerobes (bad bacteria) thrive in the mouth, potentially contributing to periodontal disease while producing the sulfur compounds responsible for bad breath. Colonizing the mouth with good bacteria, like certain Streptococcus salivarius K12 strains, can fight off the bad bacteria and reduce symptoms of halitosis.
How Long Does It Take for Probiotics to Work?
If you’re wondering about how long to notice benefits of oral probiotics, there’s unfortunately no cut and dry answer. Each person is different, meaning each mouth is different! One person may see a change within just a few days, while it may take weeks or even months for another.
That said, it’s advantageous to continue to use probiotics—like in the form of probiotic mouthwash—over a long period of time. They’ll continue to support the build-up of healthy bacteria, and you’ll eventually begin to see how they benefit the mouth and body as a whole.
Experience the Benefits of Oral Probiotics
Similar to the oil pulling vs mouthwash debate, oral probiotics are a safer, less-irritating way to freshen breath and improve overall oral health.
You can harness some of these benefits of oral probiotics yourself by experimenting with probiotic-rich foods, like many dairy products (cheese, yogurt, some milk) and fermented products (pickled vegetables, kimchi, and kombucha), or trying a supplement. To further support their benefits, it’s recommended to couple probiotics with prebiotics, like those found in Terra & Co.’s Gentle Green Oil Pulling.