You’ve heard of probiotics before. These beneficial bacteria are everywhere, from yogurt to face masks. You might even be taking a daily probiotic supplement to help support the health of your gut, which can then impact other factors including digestion and mood. But you may be unaware of a different type of probiotic—one that benefits oral health. These oral probiotics are critically important for maintaining a balanced oral microbiome, which can prevent cavity development, maintain fresh breath, and keep gum disease at bay.
It’s also important to note that the implications of a well-balanced oral microbiome go beyond the health of your teeth and mouth. Numerous diseases have been associated with oral pathogen overgrowth (that is, having too many bad bacteria in the mouth and not enough of the good guys), including:
In fact, there are specific strains of oral microbes associated with each of these diseases. With predictive testing, your dentist can even test for the presence of these in your mouth and identify if you have an increased risk for these diseases.
This just speaks to the importance of a healthy oral microbiome. I can’t state this enough: Whether your mouth maintains an ideal ratio of good-to-bad bacteria directly determines your oral and dental health, as well as the health of your entire body. And oral probiotics can help to maintain this balance.
The Difference Between Oral and Regular Probiotics
The major differences between regular probiotics and oral probiotics are the types of organisms included in each, as well as the method of delivery.
Regular probiotics contain bacterial strains that are native to the gut. They’re also typically taken in the form of a capsule that has been designed to resist the powerful gastric juices and acidic pH of your digestive system. Survivability is very important when it comes to regular probiotics, which is why it’s important to choose a high-quality product with a large number of diverse strains and a high number of Colony Forming Units (or CFUs).
Oral probiotics, meanwhile, contain beneficial strains specific to the oral microbiome (though there may be some overlap with regular probiotics). Oral probiotics are usually are in the form of lozenges or chewable tablets, as they are meant to sit in your mouth while they dissolve, thus allowing enough time to inoculate your oral microbiome.
What is Your Oral Microbiome, Anyway?
Your oral microbiome is the gateway to the rest of your body. Literally, everything that goes in through your nose and mouth passes through your oral cavities, which are home to millions of microbes that make up your oral microbiome.
In addition to the microbes that live in your mouth, you swallow over one trillion microbes every single day. These pass through your oral microbiome and travel down to your gut microbiome, in the process inoculating and reseeding both.
Depending on the health of your oral microbiome, certain microbes make it through this initial checkpoint and have a major say in your overall health. (4) If your oral microbiome is healthy, any harmful bacteria will be destroyed by the good bacteria in your mouth. Conversely, if there isn’t enough good bacteria to fight off the bad guys, they will then pass through the mouth and into the rest of the body where they can cause a host of problems.
There’s a lot of talk about the gut microbiome and how important it is to health, but your oral microbiome is equally as important.
7 Benefits of Oral Probiotics
There are only a few studies on the direct effects of oral probiotics and specific diseases. Fortunately, there are other studies on the effects of specific bacteria in your mouth and diseases they cause. Thus, we can extrapolate how balancing the microbiome with oral probiotics may help crowd out these harmful microbes.
In each of the 7 benefits listed below, I’ll be sure to point out whether or not oral probiotics were specifically used in the study. I’m a huge proponent of taking the implications of studies and applying them to your health regimen, IF there are only benefits to be gained and no potential negatives. And I’m happy to report that, In the case of oral probiotics, there are no side effects—only benefits.
Let’s take a look:
1. Prevents Plaque Buildup
The plaque that forms on your teeth is actually clusters of bacteria. They gather on the teeth to consumer any carbohydrates or sugars you may have eaten, and while they feed on the leftovers from your lunch or dinner, they also excrete cavity-causing acids onto your teeth.
One of the most problematic bacteria in the development of cavities is called Streptococcus mutans. However, an oral probiotic strain called Streptococcus A12 can outcompete the harmful version and prevent plaque buildup. (5) So when you’re shopping for an oral probiotic, be sure to look for S. A12 to reduce plaque buildup.
2. Reduces Gingivitis
The probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri has been shown to reduce gingivitis and gum bleeding, with the study suggesting that this beneficial probiotic outcompetes plaque-forming and gingivitis-causing microbes. (6) (This same bacteria also prevents plaque buildup, too.)
Fortunately, high-quality oral probiotics usually contain this important bacteria strain, and by supporting the rebalancing of your oral microbiome with L. reuteri, you may be able to resist gum disease and even reverse it.
3. Combats Candida Overgrowth
Candida is a fungi that naturally lives in your mouth, but when your oral microbiome is out of balance, it can grow unchecked and become a problem. Oral thrush is a common condition related to candida overgrowth, and you can tell you have oral thrush when strange white spots appear on your tongue.
The best way to combat this condition is to stop consuming the sugars and carbs that feed the candida yeast, and to also take a high-quality oral probiotic and. Changing your diet will stop the growth of the candida, as it will no longer have an adequate food source, and the influx of beneficial bacteria from the oral probiotic will crowd out any remaining candida microbes.
4. Fights Bad Breath
You can fight bad breath with oral probiotics, which are more effective than using an antibacterial mouthwash. An antibacterial mouthwash will kill the bacteria that cause bad breath (remember, bacteria form clusters of plaque on the teeth and excrete harmful—and smelly—acids), but it will also kill the good bacteria that is necessary for a healthy oral microbiome. However, when you use an oral probiotic it can restore balance and improve breath holistically. One study found that a beneficial bacteria called Streptococcus salivarius K12 could reduce bad breath by out-competing the harmful bacteria that actually cause it. (7)
5. May Prevent Cancer
Some oral pathogens are proving to be biomarkers that can predict the risk of certain cancers, especially oral cancers (1). Research suggests that through studying the oral microbiome and different biomarkers in the saliva, we may be able to minimize the effects of certain diseases, including cancers. This would be possible by using oral probiotics (and other methods) to actively counteract the presence of cancer-causing microbes.
6. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Other oral pathogens have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease (2). In fact, some forward-thinking dentists across the country are starting to incorporate oral pathogen testing as a preventative measure geared toward heart health.
The relationship between these oral pathogens and heart disease is stronger than just a light association—specific bacteria have even been found inside the heart valves and plaques of heart disease patients. These bacteria include P. gingivalis, Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus sanguinis, A. actinomycetemcomitans, T. denticola.
Essentially, when you take oral probiotics you have a better chance of crowding out these harmful pathogens and reducing your risk of heart disease.
7. Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Morbidity
Researchers have found an association in the comorbidity between Alzheimer’s disease and gum disease (3), meaning that there are often patients who exhibit symptoms of both conditions. This could be due to the fact that inflammation runs rampant in both diseases. It would also explain why, in standard Alzheimer’s disease protocols, treating gum disease is at the top of the list for preventing further cognitive decline. Reversing gum disease and rebalancing the oral microbiome significantly reduces inflammation in the body, and taking an oral probiotic is a great way to do just that.
How to Choose the Best Oral Probiotic
When choosing an oral probiotic look for options with a high strain count, which is measured in colony forming units (CFUs). Keep in mind, though, that oral probiotics will usually have a lower strain and CFU count than regular probiotics. Also, be sure to check for beneficial strains like S. salivarius K12 and S. salivarius M18.
I hope it’s becoming clear that the health of your oral microbiome impacts the rest of the body in ways we are only just beginning to fully understand. Your body is a complex system of interactions, none of which are isolated from the rest of the body. As I always say, what happens in the mouth happens in the body.
Dr. Mark Burhenne
Have you ever heard of oral probiotics or tried them yourself? Leave a comment below, and tell us about your experience.Read Next: DIY Probiotic Toothpaste