October 05, 2023 6 min read
What are oral probiotics? In the simplest of terms, they are beneficial bacteria that improve the health of your oral cavity. After years of being told how bad, or even dangerous, bacteria are to you, it may come as a bit of an eye opener to understand that a healthy mix of bacteria is not only good for your health but they are actually vital to your very survival.
Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In other words, probiotics are live bacteria that are healthy and good for you. Most of us are very familiar with gut probiotics and the idea that eating foods such as yogurt is a very healthy habit and will improve your digestion and your health in general.
But, it might surprise you to know that different areas of your body have their own unique systems of bacteria. These are called “microbiomes” or communities of microorganisms that live on or in our bodies. They perform many survival actions for us, from digesting our food to fighting off invaders and even to making vitamins for us!
But just like our bodies, our microbiomes can get disrupted and imbalanced. When that happens, these microbiomes produce less of the good effects and can even start producing harmful effects (think cavities and gum disease here).
Oral probiotics serve the purpose of restoring a healthy balance to your oral cavity. As the oral microbiome restores to a healthier state, then this delivers benefits such as improved oral health, fewer (or none) cavities, better gum health and a more robust immune system.
It might be obvious but it is worth saying, your gut and your mouth are very different environments. What they do share is that they are both a part of your “inner skin” in that they are a part of that inner channel that goes from your lips to your bottom. This pathway is like your outer skin in that it is a barrier between the external world and your body. Primarily, foods and liquids pass through this channel and they need to be digested in order for you to have the nutrition and energy to survive. Without a healthy and balanced mix of bacteria in this channel, you would die from starvation.
In addition, bacteria play an important part in fending off harmful invaders, they are a big part of your defense system. Think of them as soldiers in your immunity army.
The mouth is very different from your intestines or guts. For one thing, your mouth is wide open to the world and exposed to air, viruses and other bacteria as well as foods and liquids that have not been broken down. It makes sense that your mouth requires a different mix of bacteria to do its job. While your guts and your mouth may share some types of bacteria, they each have their own unique bacteria as well as their own optimal mix of bacteria.
And there is a lot of bacteria. Researchers estimate that there are around 700 types of bacteria in your mouth and roughly 500 types in your gut. However, there are usually just a few strains that dominate in either your gut or your mouth. For example, in the gut it is estimated that almost 99% of the bacteria come from less that 10% of the different species in your intestinal microbiome.
You will sometimes see the harmful bacteria referred to as “bad” bacteria, with quotes used because the bacteria strains, by themselves, are not necessarily harmful. In fact, they may even serve a useful purpose.
But, when certain bacteria overgrow and thrive in the mouth, then harmful effects occur. It is interesting to note that the S. mutans strain (one of the bad guys) has been with man for a very, very long time yet the studies of early man and his oral health show that our distant ancestors did not suffer from cavities or gum disease to the degree that we do. And they did not have toothpastes, brushes, mouthwashes or bi-annual dental visits!
From this, one can draw the conclusion that it is not the mere presence of “bad” bacteria in your mouth but rather the overgrowth and unhealthy balance of bacteria in your mouth that causes problems.
S. mutans is one of the most harmful strains of bacteria in your mouth. The “how and why” of this is a very involved subject and we won’t go into that in this blog, but it can be positively stated that the overgrowth of S. mutans is the prime driver behind cavities and gum disease.
What causes S. mutans overgrowth? The modern diet, high in sugars, starches and simple carbohydrates, is a prime driver. Additionally, the use of broad antibacterial products, from antibiotics in our foods to typical mouthwashes, kill off all bacteria and heavily disrupt the bacterial balance in a healthy oral microbiome.
Now, as the “bad” bacteria take over, they create an acidic pH in your mouth which then inhibits the growth of the beneficial bacteria. And so, the mouth enters a dwindling spiral of poor oral health brought on by an unhealthy oral microbiome.
This problem is often addressed by antibiotics, antibacterial oral products and even powerful bleaches. All with the purpose of broadly killing off bacteria. While these products have their place with an immediate and acute infection, when used regularly they simply degrade your oral microbiome and so, in turn, degrade your oral health.
Here is where oral probiotics help.
By introducing beneficial bacteria into the mouth, you are able to reseed and restore beneficial bacteria. The strains found in a quality oral probiotic mix, will actually kill off the “bad” bacteria and crowd them out. As time goes by, this restores a healthy balance to the mouth and the pH returns to a normal level. Now, without the constant attack of acids and harmful bio-byproducts, such as plaque and tartar, the mouth can begin healing and restoring itself.
None of this is an overnight cure. Depending upon the state of your teeth, your diet and your genetics the time it takes to restore a healthy oral microbiome is usually 1-3 months. Once that happens, and is maintained, then over the next 6-12 months, one will see significant changes in the health of one’s gums, fewer colds and sore throats, fresher breath and far fewer (in any) cavities.
After that, should you quit using oral probiotics? The answer is no, just like you would not quit brushing your teeth because they were now healthy. You want to maintain that state of good health. However, the need for supplementation is reduced from daily use to just several times a week.
To really see long lasting and significant results from the use of oral probiotics, one should assist the process with a few helpful habits:
Follow these steps and see for yourself–oral probiotics really do work.