Research Insight – Probiotics Show Promise for Dental Cavity Prevention
Probiotics are usually associated with gut and immune health but it seems they may offer oral benefits too!
Probiotics are living bacteria that help to maintain optimal levels of healthy bacteria found naturally throughout the human digestive and urogenital tracts. Current research indicates that the balance between beneficial and harmful (pathogenic) bacteria is also essential for the maintenance of oral health
Various types of oral bacteria naturally inhabit different areas of the mouth including the cheeks, tongue, lips, palate
At present, no species of bacteria specific to the oral cavity has been found, however species commonly isolated from saliva samples include Lactobacillus paracasei, plantarum, rhamnosus and salivarius, as well as Bifidovacterial species bifidum, denim and longum.
How Do Dental Cavities Develop?
Dental cavities or caries often develop as a result of microbial imbalance where the oral bacteria levels have shifted towards dominance by acid-forming and acid-tolerant gram positive bacteria and a reduction in the numbers of acid-senstive bacterial species associated with healthy tooth enamel.
The balance of the oral microflora can shift due to changes in the diet, eg. high intake of sugar containing foods/beverages, poor oral hygiene practices, smoking, dental surgery, eg. extractions or insertion of dentures, or a reduction in saliva flow as a side-effect of medication or radiation therapy.
Acidic conditions resulting from oral microbial shifts cause demineralisation of the tooth’s outer layers (enamel and dentin), due to a leaching out of minerals required to buffer acidity, thereby promoting tooth decay and caries progression.
Like periodontal disease, cavities are also associated with dental plaque. Dental plaque involves the formation of a bacterial biofilm on the oral surfaces that contains multiple types of bacteria, bacterial by-products and sugar residues.
It is difficult for saliva to penetrate biofilms in the mouth to reach tooth surfaces and maintain health of the teeth, thereby further promoting bacterial adherence to oral surfaces and the production and colonisation of opportunistic and harmful oral bacteria.
The Streptococcus species is a common type of oral bacteria that can over-proliferate to contribute to dental plaque and disease-associated oral inflammation.
How Can Probiotics Improve Oral Health For Cavity Prevention?
Current evidence indicates that probiotics show a lot of promise for the treatment and prevention of oral disease.
Specifically, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus casei have been found to reduce the growth of cavity causing streptococci bacteria.
Researchers propose that probiotics may improve oral and dental health via the following mechanisms:
- Direct effects of probiotics include competing with harmful oral microorganisms for adherence to oral membranes and for nutrient availability.
- Indirect effects on oral health include stabilisation of normal oral condition (eg. acid/alkaline balancing, reduction of inflammation), boosting immune defences and assisting in the removal of harmful bacteria.
However, it is important to note that not all probiotic strains have been found to directly affect oral health.
Further research is required into long term use of probiotics for oral disease prevention and the most effective methods of administration as well as specific bacterial species for different conditions.
Improving Your Oral Health
Include foods rich in natural probiotics in your diet, including fermented foods such as organic sauerkraut, kefir milk and yoghurt, kimchi, and easily made home-fermented vegetables eg. cabbage, cucumber pickles, beetroots and carrots.
Prebiotics have also been found to enhance the effects of probiotics on oral health. These are non-digestible food fibres that provide a fuel source for good bacteria and are found in organic oats, berries, bananas, garlic, asparagus, green vegetables, flaxseeds, Jerusalem artichokes, legumes and chicory root.
For optimal results on oral health, increase the amount of time probiotics are in contact with the oral cavity by mixing probiotic powder in some water (open capsules and use powdered contents if you buy capsules) and swish the probiotic mixture around your mouth for at least 10-20 seconds before swallowing.
Did You Know?
Bad breath is another oral problem associated with bacterial imbalance in the mouth and digestive tract. Bacteria associated with gingivitis, periodontisis and tonsillitis have been found to be the major culprits in halitosis.
Keeping your mouth healthy and ensuring your are getting enough probiotics from your diet and high-quality supplements to restore oral bacterial balance is essential for managing this problem!
Haukioja, A. 2010, Probiotics and Oral Health, European Journal of Dentistry, Vol. 4
Marsh, P.D. 2003, Are dental diseases examples of ecological catastrophes?, Microbiology, Vol. 149(2)
Saha. S. et al. 2012, Probiotics as oral health biotherapeutics, Expert Opinion on Biological Therapies, Vol. 12(9)