How Do Oral Probiotics Work?
The fundamental cause of gum disease, tooth decay and even bad breath lies with the bacteria found in your mouth or, more broadly, your oral cavity.
The “bad” bacteria are also sometimes referred to as pathogens (the Greeks used the word “pathos” to refer to disease, or a bad experience and “gen” can mean “to create or cause”). So a pathogen=create a disease.
A pathogen is usually a bacteria or virus that causes illness, disease or infection.
Here is a simple example of how this works in your mouth:
The medical word for your gums is “gingiva” and so from this we get the condition called “gingivitis” which is when the gum tissue around your teeth become inflamed and red.
How does this happen?
In simple terms, bacteria attach to your tooth surface. Then more bacteria colonize and this creates something called “biofilm.” (Simple word, just a film on top of a surface that is made of living organisms, such as bacteria) This biofilm matures and hardens, making dental plaque. This plaque irritates and infects the gums, causing inflammation or gingivitis.
If the bacterial biofilm does not build-up, or is removed, then the gingivitis also goes away. Generally, gingivitis is reversible with good dental hygiene, but if left untreated can lead to tooth loss and periodontal disease.
Interestingly, certain bacteria are directly associated to tooth decay because they produce lots of acidic byproducts. When these bacteria are predominant in the biofilm on your teeth, then their acid byproducts destroy enamel and so you get a cavity.
The points here are:
- Bacteria play a very important part in the function and health of your mouth
- Bacteria are also the primary causation agents of gum disease and tooth decay
- Bacteria become “bad” when they overgrow and out-balance the other bacteria in your mouth
A healthy population of “good” bacteria balances your mouth and contributes to reduction of gum disease and tooth decay
Mechanisms of How Oral Probiotics Work in Your Mouth
A 2018 scientific study covered the effect of oral probiotics on the growth of periodontal pathogens.
In that study, the authors covered several of the primary proposed mechanisms by which oral probiotics act:
- The beneficial bacteria actually secrete, or produce, a number of different antimicrobial substances. These substances are compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, organic acids and even bacteriocins (these are protein-like toxins produced by bacteria that kills another related strain of bacteria). In simplicity, bacteria can kill off or inhibit the growth of other bacteria through the production of these natural substances. As an example, our blend of oral probiotics includes a strain of bacteria popularly known as BLIS k12. The “BLIS” stands for Bacteriocin Like Inhibitory Substance, as our bacteria produces a substance that inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria… pretty impressive how nature provides these solutions!
- Next, is the competition factor. Oral probiotics can adhere to the biofilm and also colonize throughout the oral cavity and basically crowd out the pathogenic bacteria. On the teeth, for example, the good guys adhere to the teeth and so inhibit the bad guys from literally sticking around. They also compete for food and energy sources and starve the bad bacteria.
- Another powerful mechanism is that as the beneficial bacteria populates in your mouth, they actually modify the environment of your oral cavity. They will reduce the acidic pH and build a more healthy, neutral pH. The pathogenic bacteria prefer an acidic environment. Raising the pH to a neutral level has the effect of inhibiting their growth and makes it much harder for them to colonize in the mouth.
- And another interesting one is that oral probiotics could help stimulate immunity and the immune response. This leads to an activation of one of the important ways that your body tackles pathogens, through the process of phagocytosis. Now, while this sounds like a mouthful (bad pun intended) it is actually quite simple to understand. “Phago” comes from the Greek for “to eat” and “cytosis” comes from the Greek for “cell.” So, you get “cell eating” which is basically what happens. The immune cells basically surround a pathogen and eat it up–problem gone. If you are familiar with the old game called PacMan, well, it is rather like that.
This covers the main mechanisms by which oral probiotics are seen to produce a beneficial effect in your mouth. Hopefully this makes more sense to you and you will find this information helpful in your journey to creating great oral health.
A Final Word on How Oral Probiotics Work
As the authors of the above reference study* stated in their conclusion:
“Lactobacillus and S. salivarius had inhibitory effect on periodontal pathogens in the oral microflora.”
Or, in simpler terms, the test oral probiotics helped to inhibit, slow down, the growth of bad bacteria in the mouth.
* S, Routh & Pai, Mithun & Rajesh, G & MDS, Shenoy R. (2018). EFFECT OF LACTOBACILLUS ACIDOPHILUS AND STREPTOCOCCUS SALIVARIUS ON GROWTH OF PERIODONTAL PATHOGENS – AN IN-VITRO STUDY. International Journal of Advanced Research. 6. 607-612. 10.21474/IJAR01/7073.