In the past ten years, the medical community saw a huge uptick in the amount of research done about probiotic therapy for gut health, and now the trend is hitting dental research as well. Probiotics are, most succinctly, beneficial bacteria that digest food by-products, thus benefiting the body by getting rid of something that otherwise would turn to waste and rot.
A 2016 study discovered that a kind of bacteria called A12 was able to fight a harmful bacterium known as S.mutans, which lives in the mouth and synthesizes sugar into lactic acid. This, of course, creates an acidic atmosphere, which contributes to sticky plaque. S.mutans is the bacterium which causes tooth decay by compromising the tooth enamel with the acidic environment and also attracting a bad strain of lactobacilli to one’s teeth.
Lactobacilli bacteria, which loves to reside on the tongue, by itself, is not very threatening. However, once the S.mutans has infiltrated the enamel of the tooth, lactobacilli finish the job of creating the cavity. The by-product of this rotting process often ends up in the GI tract when a person swallows saliva, causing digestive problems and even heart problems since plaque from dietary fat and dental plaque can both threaten the arteries.
So, by fighting S.mutans, probiotic bacterium A12 prevents this chain of events that can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
There are also studies that show probiotics help with gum disease, such as gingivitis. Lactobacillus reuteri, a 2007 dental study suggests, decreases gum inflammation by killing off the bad bacteria that are thriving in an unhealthy oral environment.
What is the mechanism by which these probiotics work? Well, they augment the flora of one’s mouth. Bad bacteria is present in everyone’s mouth. However, when someone eats a diet full of simple sugars, a much beloved food source for those bacteria, they proliferate and begin to create problems within the body. When a person takes the beneficial bacteria through probiotics, they are able to overtake the bad bugs in a person’s oral environment.
The FDA has yet to approve oral probiotics, but their popularity seems to be growing among holistic practitioners and online consumers.
Dr. Brusky remains open-minded but says special dental probiotic powders cannot be substituted for regular teeth cleanings, which break down already-calcified plaque, something probiotics cannot dissolve. Also, there is no substitute for thorough, daily flossing.