When you think of probiotics, the first thing you probably think of is gut health, but recent studies show that probiotics can also have a major positive impact on oral health. 1 It makes sense, since the oral cavity is part of the digestive system. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) will often suggest the consumption of probiotics and foods rich in other dental-friendly nutrients in order to treat and prevent oral diseases like gingivitis, tooth decay and periodontitis, as well as to improve overall oral health.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms containing beneficial bacteria that contribute to a healthy microbiome and are most well known for promoting gut health. 2 Probiotics can be taken in capsule form or by consuming probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Check with your healthcare provider to see whether probiotics are right for you, and avoid consuming them if you have a serious condition that makes you more susceptible to infection, such as HIV.
The mouth contains two different types of environments for probiotics to live: hard surfaces and soft surfaces. Hard surfaces (teeth) allow for the development of permanent communities of good bacteria. Soft surfaces (tongue, gums, inside of the cheeks), on the other hand, undergo epithelial cell shedding which makes for constant community turnover. Both hard and soft surfaces are always being bathed in saliva, which produces a conditioning film. 3 This means that the mouth is an environment where diverse probiotic communities thrive.
How Probiotics Improve Oral Health
Gingivitis, or gum disease, is a very common oral health issue that often leads to more severe problems including loss of teeth. 4 The probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce the bacteria that lead to gingivitis in those that already have it and may help to prevent it from forming. 5 6
Common mouth bacteria will create an acidic environment, which in turn may lead to plaque formation. Probiotics fight these bacteria and may be instrumental in preventing the creation of an acidic environment where plaque can thrive. 7
Halitosis, or bad breath, is usually caused by bacteria located either in the mouth or the gut. While many people reach for mouthwash to help with bad breath, this simply masks the problem and does not address the cause. Consuming probiotics improves the body’s microbiome, which in turn may reduce the bacteria that cause halitosis. 8
Decrease Gum Inflammation
Treating oral health issues through nutritional and environmental factors is just one way that naturopathic doctors help to improve their patients’ overall health. An unhealthy oral environment may also be indicative of other systemic health issues.
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