Probiotics are regularly in the news, most notably for their benefits on digestive health. However, probiotics for oral health are a new and emerging field of research. With more than 600 species having been shown to colonise the oral cavity, it’s an area we thought was worth looking at. We asked Nutritional Therapist Natasha Wilcock to take a look at the research and what has been discovered so far…
Bacteria has long been a dirty word, associated with disease and poor hygiene, but it’s time to change that. There is now a drive to understand the role of bacteria not only in disease, but also in their capacity to promote and restore health. The emerging implications are that our bacterial balance of good and bad bacteria has an impact beyond what we originally would have thought possible.
Bacterial cells outnumber human cells in our bodies by around ten to one!
Collectively, these trillions of tiny organisms that inhabit the human body are known as the microbiome. The ability of our microbiome to change in response to environmental stimuli and diet is well documented; they have even been shown to influence complex behavior such as emotions and memory. Unsurprisingly, the ability to positively alter our microbiome through the use of probiotics is an appealing prospect to both researchers and the public.
So what are probiotics?
A probiotic is, by definition, a microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities. Probiotics for oral health are suitable for young and old alike and can be taken via a lozenge that dissolves in the mouth. The only time that probiotics may not be suitable is for the immunocompromised such as someone with HIV or going through chemotherapy.
Probiotics and oral health
So, cue the already massive surge in popularity of the probiotic supplement market. But what about the probiotic supplements out there specifically for oral health? How do they work and what scientific research has been done on them?
According to the review article ‘Bacteria in Oral Health – Probiotics and Prebiotics A Review’(1), probiotics benefit your oral health by:
• Helping to bind oral microorganisms to proteins and biofilm formation
• Fighting against plaque formation
• Producing chemicals to inhibit harmful oral bacteria that damage oral hygiene
• Effectively working in the process of removing harmful bacteria and stabilising normal conditions
• Regulating permeability and developing colonies in oral microflora with less pathogenic species
• Helping to effectively cure diseases such as dental caries, periodontal diseases, halitosis and candidiasis.1
Although oral probiotics are a relatively new area of research and application, initial results appear promising and represent a move away from the all-exterminating, anti-bacterial mouthwashes we’ve previously seen. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, we may well see increased publicity and a greater focus on the use of probiotics to improve oral health.