Dental Probiotics | Do They Actually Work?

chewable dental probiotic tablets with blue background

You’re probably familiar with probiotics or needing “good bacteria” when your doctor puts you on an antibiotic to treat an infection. But are dental probiotics (oral probiotics) taken for supplemental purposes also beneficial?

As it turns out, they could be. When our oral flora (the natural bacteria inside of our mouths) gets off-balance, it can put us at higher risk for infections like thrush/yeast, bad breath, and other common dental ailments.

But just how effective is it to take dental probiotics? And are certain types of oral probiotics better for certain concerns than others? Here’s a simplified breakdown of what you need to know to improve your oral hygiene and overall health.

What Are Dental Probiotics?

Probiotic supplements—including oral probiotics—are natural products that you can take to help replenish the “good” bacteria inside of your mouth. There are lots of ways to help promote good bacteria balance in your body, but sometimes the way you absorb them or where you need them will impact the delivery method. For instance, when your GI tract is out of balance, you can address it with live bacterial cultures found in foods like yogurt or sourdough bread. But when your oral flora is out of wack, you need specific dental probiotics to help balance the healthy bacteria in the mouth.[1]

A typical dental probiotic is usually going to be in the form of a lozenge or chewable tablet. It might seem obvious, but you’re wanting to get as many of these beneficial bacteria inside of your mouth as opposed to ingesting them and hoping they find their way back.

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7 Benefits of Dental Probiotics

Our mouths have aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. That is germs that require oxygen or thrive in the absence of it. Like plaque on our teeth vs. down inside of gum pockets. On top of that, different types of bacteria cause different infections or problems. For example, cavities and periodontitis are going to usually have completely separate bacterial strains in those areas. So, if you’re going to target a dental concern with a dental probiotic supplement, you want to be sure you’re using the correct product and bacterial strain.

Which types of dental issues can benefit from using an oral probiotic? Here are some of the most common:

1. Tooth Decay

Specific strains of dental probiotics help limit your risk of tooth decay by minimizing erosive bacteria inside your mouth. Specifically, L. salivarius. Just keep in mind that there are over a couple of dozen strains of L. salivarius, so if you’re trying to reduce your cavity risk you will want to use a reputable product with the right types of probiotic strains. If you already have a high risk of caries or tend to get recurring cavities even if you’re brushing, flossing, and eating right, a probiotic supplement sure won’t hurt!

2. Bad Breath

Even though what you eat (garlic, onions, milk, etc.) can give you bad breath, oral bacteria are responsible for a lot of the malodor in people with halitosis. Dental probiotics for bad breath help target the bad bacteria strains in our mouths, which most of the harmful bacteria are on the tongue. Even though tongue scraping can remove large accumulations of bacteria, it won’t get down in between every single bumpy papilla on your tongue’s surface. Adding a probiotic into your home care routine can take things to the next level when you’ve got a stinky situation on your hands (or should I say your mouth.)

3. Tonsillitis

People with enlarged or pitted tonsils typically tend to be more susceptible to bacteria imbalance. Certain types of oral probiotics are shown to reduce bacterial collection around the tonsils. So, if you’re prone to recurring tonsillitis, strep throat, or have stinky tonsil stones always getting in the way, using dental probiotics each day could have a huge impact on your overall health.[2]

4. Gum Health

Gingivitis and periodontal disease tend to get less attention than bad breath and cavities do, but they impact your smile for the long haul. A probiotic can help you minimize bad breath bacteria along the gumlines after you brush and floss, reducing your chances of inflammation, bleeding, and tissue detachment around the roots of your teeth.

5. Prevent Plaque Buildup

Plaque buildup is an overgrowth of bad bacteria. When you remove it physically with a toothbrush and floss, adding a probiotic into your oral health routine will help prevent any residual plaque from contributing to gingivitis, decay, or bad breath.

6. Oral Thrush

Thrush is a type of yeast infection, which happens when any type of bacterial overgrowth occurs. If you’re taking antibiotics or are immunocompromised to where you’re always prone to oral thrush, a dental probiotic is highly recommended to help “balance you out” so to speak. Yes, antibiotics can still kill the bad bacteria while you’re protecting the good ones with a probiotic, because you’re controlling which types of bacterial strains you’re putting back into your body.

7. Respiratory Infections 

We know that people with active gum disease (periodontitis) are statistically more at risk for respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. Essentially, it has to do with inhaling oral bacteria into your respiratory tract, and those germs invading your lungs. So, if you’re using a dental probiotic to help manage your oral bacterial levels, you are inherently promoting better respiratory wellness and oral health at the same time.

8. Oral Cancer

Some research does suggest that specific probiotics (in this case, L. plantarum) inhibit the development of cancer. Specifically oral cancer. It’s thought that using them can help prevent and reduce the spread of cancerous tissues in the mouth.[3]

Are Dental Probiotics For You? 

Using a dental probiotic can help take your home care routine to the next level. But remember, they don’t physically kill or remove the bad bacteria that are already in your mouth. To get the right balance of good bacteria—which helps with your breath and tissue health—you need to first remove the bad germs with mechanical methods like brushing and flossing. Otherwise, you’re simply throwing more good bacteria in your mouth without giving them the head start they need to actually work. You could think about it like spraying sanitizer on a dirty countertop without wiping it down first.

Our mouths have a natural “slime layer” that accumulates around each of our teeth. And if you’re not brushing or flossing regularly, the bad bacteria inside of that slime layer will calcify into tartar buildup, breeding even more bad germs. Neither a probiotic nor a toothbrush can help at that point.

In order for oral probiotics to work, you need to be great about brushing, flossing, and regular checkups before you start taking a supplement.

Gut vs. Oral Probiotics

Not all probiotic supplements are the same or work the same way. Remember, different parts of your body require different types of good bacteria. If you’re trying to treat bad breath, you need a different probiotic than what you’d take when you’re on antibiotic treatment.

There are two big differences in gut vs. oral probiotics. Firstly, oral probiotics target the specific types of bacteria that you need in your mouth. Probiotics come in different strains depending on the area of your body you’re targeting. And since most people using dental probiotics have issues like bad breath or gingivitis, you don’t want to waste your time taking a supplement that doesn’t counteract those specific types of bacteria.

And just as important as bacterial strain is the overall delivery method. A lot of probiotics for your gut health are ingested. Because you want to absorb them straight inside of your GI tract so that they can get to work. But oral probiotics need to be ones where they’re absorbed or applied directly to the mouth, where the “bad” bacteria or bacterial imbalance is. This is why these strains are going to come in a lozenge or chewable tablet that stays in your mouth longer than a pill you swallow. Sometimes you’ll even see them come in a rinse form.

How Long Do Oral Probiotics Take To Work?

It can take several days or even a couple of weeks for brushing and flossing to make a difference in your mouth. Don’t expect your probiotics to work overnight. But if you’re dedicated to starting up with a good home hygiene routine and you’re supplementing with a dental probiotic on top of that, you should definitely start to notice a difference.

Some dental probiotics suggest that you’ll definitely start to notice an improvement within just a few days of using them. But full results are typically seen within a month.

For your supplement to work, you’ll need to make sure you’re taking it as directed. That might mean using them 2-4 times a day, depending on the blend you’re using. You might need to set a timer if you have trouble remembering to take them, otherwise, it can take a whole lot longer before you start to see any improvement if any at all.

Best Dental Probiotic Strains to Take

A few of the most effective oral probiotics will contain bacterial strains like L. salivarius and L. reuteri.

L. reuteri works best for helping manage gingivitis since it’s effective against the type of aerobic (requiring oxygen) bacteria that tend to settle right along the gumlines.

On the other hand, L. salivarius can help with several different issues, including chronic bad breath, your risk of tooth decay, and gums that bleed whenever you brush and floss. If you’re trying to address halitosis and are already cleaning your tongue daily and trying to minimize drainage around your tonsils in the back of your throat, this specific oral probiotic will be one you want to use.

Foods Naturally High in Dental Probiotics 

Is it possible to naturally give yourself good dental probiotics by eating certain foods? Can you find the specific types of oral probiotic blends you want in everyday meals?

Even though there are different strains of L. salivarius bacteria, you can find some of them in smaller amounts in foods like bananas, tomatoes, artichokes, and probiotic yogurt products at your grocery store. Other types of natural probiotics are also found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Unfortunately, the levels may not be high enough in everyday foods or have enough contact time with your mouth to make that huge of a difference. And if it’s in a milk product that’s pasteurized, there may not be as many live bacteria inside of it as what you’d get from a tablet or lozenge. This is why supplements after brushing and flossing tend to be a better way to increase good bacteria.

Don’t get me wrong. A healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in Omega-3s, fiber, and lots of fresh produce is perfect for promoting good gum and dental health. But if you already have a bacterial imbalance inside your mouth, slightly altering your diet may not make a huge difference.

Side Effects of Dental Probiotics

Typically, we recommend taking probiotics to help counteract the side effects of antibiotics. Since taking prescription antibiotics can kill good bacteria inside your body, people frequently experience thrush/yeast infections or general gastrointestinal upset. But can taking a probiotic, dental or not, also have some negative side effects?[4]

It’s true. You can risk too much of a good thing, including probiotics and other holistic supplements. If you’re taking excessive amounts of oral probiotics or throwing off your body’s natural balance of flora, it can lead to more problems than just inside your mouth. It’s fairly common knowledge that using too many probiotics will typically cause GI distress, such as gas and bloating or even nausea and diarrhea. The good news is that these side effects are usually temporary.

Talk to a Dentist

If you’re worried enough about your oral health that you’re investigating oral probiotic supplements, you definitely need to talk to your dentist. No, you probably don’t need to make a special appointment just to discuss bad breath symptoms or a little gingivitis. But you do want to bring it up during your next six-month checkup. In the meantime, make sure you’re keeping up with your daily flossing, correct brushing techniques, and get your teeth cleaned on time. If you have heavy buildup, don’t ignore the recommendations of your dentist or hygienist; no amount of dental probiotics will improve oral health or will make up for active periodontal infections inside of your mouth. You’ll need a deep cleaning to remove all that calcified bacteria first.

Do Oral Probiotics Work? 

Yes, when paired with a great oral hygiene routine and regular dental cleanings. But not all dental probiotics and over-the-counter probiotic blends are the same. You’ll want to get a supplement that’s specifically targeted for oral biofilm in the form of a lozenge or chewable tablets. That way the right types of good bacteria have maximum contact time with your mouth. When used as directed, you’ll typically start to notice within a few days and full results in about a month. But no amount of supplements will ever take the place of physical plaque removal with brushing and flossing. If you have major concerns about an imbalance of oral bacteria or chronic halitosis, always talk to your dentist. There could be a bigger problem you don’t know about. Otherwise, using dental probiotics at home is completely safe as long as you’re following the proper dosage and instructions.

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