Most of us are aware of probiotics. Or at least we’ve heard this much: They’re the live bacteria in yogurt that are beneficial to our digestive systems. Now new research reports probiotics may be good for your dental health, too.
Probiotics, “good bacteria” as opposed to the “bad bacteria” that cause some nasty diseases, is a collective term for what may be hundreds of different strains of beneficial bacteria. Each one has a unique effect on the human body. Two of the most common are lactobacillus (known to help gut issues) and bifidobacteria. In the mouth, strains of Streptococcus salivarius have been shown to be beneficial for oral health.
While most probiotics are bacteria, they also can be molds or yeast. To be categorized as probiotic, the bacteria must be “live” or “active,” or dormant and ready to spring to life.
For dental health, the use of probiotics has shown promise for reducing cavities and gum disease, stimulating bone formation, combating inflammation and perhaps helping prevent oral cancer. The National Center for Biotechnology Information cautions that more research needs to be done but does conclude that “several health-promoting effects of probiotic bacteria (for dental health) are well documented” and there is no reason to restrict their use while more studies are being done.
How do probiotics support oral health?
In general, probiotics can boost your body’s overall immune system. Streptococcus salivarius has been shown to stimulate your mouth’s healthy flora, destroy the bacteria that cause plaque and neutralize the acid in saliva, all of which help prevent cavities and protect your gums.
Is yogurt the only food that contains probiotics?
No, but it’s one of the best because it can contain tens of billions of live bacteria. For dental health, only plain yogurt can be recommended – flavored yogurts contain too much added sugar.
What other foods contain probiotics?
Probiotic bacteria cannot survive the heat of cooking or processing, so not all foods that are said to contain them are protective. Good choices may include buttermilk and kefir, sour pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. Sourdough bread, some cheeses, and even dark chocolate may contain the bacteria but the cultures may not be live.
How can I be sure to get probiotics that will benefit my mouth?
Besides eating probiotic-rich foods, if your doctor agrees, you can try Streptococcus salivarius supplements. The most effective types for oral health are available over the counter either as lozenges (to dissolve in the mouth) or mouthwash. Check with your doctor first, though – not everyone can safely use these.
The takeaway is this: Probiotics in food seem to be safe for most people and are worth looking into as a potential next frontier in dental health. Research on the value of probiotics to your oral well-being, though still new, suggests this inquiry may offer an exciting prospect for safeguarding the health of your teeth and gums.
However, when it comes to a healthy mouth, no single food or supplement can substitute for good oral hygiene – regular brushing, flossing, and visits to your dentist.