Interest in probiotics has grown lately, fueled partially by commercial developments, but more notably by an increasing number of clinical studies documenting health benefits in the human body.
Recently, there have even been studies being conducted on how Probiotics can be used to flatten the Curve of COVID-19 Pandemic. Any healthcare practitioner, dentists included, would agree that anything that strengthens the human immune system would be highly welcomed, especially if it involves fighting this novel virus.
But COVID-19 aside, there have been several other studies conducted, focusing on the application of Probiotics in dentistry. Should dentists recommend them to their patients? Are they an effective treatment of oral diseases? And most importantly, are they safe?
Clinical research on probiotics; Do they really help?
As mentioned earlier, numerous studies have sought to establish the effects of probiotics on oral health. One such study published in the Swedish Dental Journal found a probiotic that minimized gum bleeding in patients suffering from moderate and severe gingivitis.
Another study published in Current Oral Health Reports revealed that probiotics help manage cavities and gum disease by restoring the balance of friendly bacteria in the mouth, which is not always attained by typical dental treatments. Also, the cavity-fighting effects of probiotics were seen in a study published in Caries Research (ORCA), which showed that regular use of mouth rinse containing the healthy bacteria minimized the formation of plaque by 20%.
Other studies found that probiotics can slow down the bacteria that generate sulfur compounds — the odorous compounds associated with bad breath. What’s more, according to Cancer Prevention Research, probiotics can help prevent oral cancer. Lastly, the Journal of Indian Society Periodontology reveals that probiotics consist of properties that minimize inflammation; and other detrimental effects of pathogens.
In summary, oral-probiotics are helpful, and dentists can prescribe them to:
- Prevent plaque and tooth decay
- Heal gum disease
- Cure bad breath
- Manage symptoms of gingivitis
- Decrease inflammation from gum disease
Oral-probiotics use in dentistry: critical facts every dentist should note
Besides the health benefits, what else should dental professionals know before recommending oral-probiotics to patients?
First and foremost, not all probiotics are the same. These friendly bacteria differ broadly, in terms of where they were isolated, their physiologic and microbiologic traits, the clinical effects they produce, the right doses needed to attain those effects, and how widely the effects have been studied.
Secondly, different strains of the same probiotics species may have varying physiological effects, just as different antibiotic generations and antibiotics classes may have different effects. Lastly, some products marketing themselves as probiotics in the U.S. are not actually probiotics since they lack the proof to support the therapeutic capabilities of the specific strains being used.
Recommending sources of probiotics to patients
Probiotics can be gotten from dietary supplements or food sources. Usually, the supplements are in the form of tablets, gummies, powders, or capsules. Generally, when recommending a probiotic supplement to patients, suggest one that comprises more than one strain of friendly bacteria.
A general recommendation is to pick probiotic supplements with at least one billion colony forming units and consisting of the genus Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus — some of the most studied probiotics. However, you have to delve deeper, since each genus of bacteria encompasses various strains that produce different results.
Contrary to supplements, probiotic foods offer a more “natural” source of probiotics. Examples of food items that you can recommend and are believed to be rich in probiotics include enhanced milk, aged cheese, sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt, and sourdough bread. Probiotics are also available in foods such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Probiotics from supplements or foods: which source should dentists recommend?
According to a 2016 research that compared the impact of supplements versus probiotic foods, there does not appear to be satisfactory evidence to imply that one is objectively “superior” to the other.
Both the supplements and foods have demonstrably been able to guarantee certain health benefits. And, while more comprehensive studies are perhaps needed to really establish the “better” source, the bottom line is that they are both recommendable to patients.
Are there any side effects associated with oral-probiotics?
Probiotics are usually safe. However, dentists and physicians should avoid using them on patients who have an imminent risk of infection because of special conditions, like HIV. Also, dentists should be extra careful when prescribing probiotics to seniors, pregnant women, and children.
Is it right for dentists to recommend oral-probiotics to patients?
Studies have shown the huge impact that these friendly bacteria can have on patients' oral and general health, and dentists should not shy away from using them, at least, in combination with modern dental treatments.
Unlike antibiotics, probiotics wipes-out concerns about the development resistance since they naturally dwell in the human body and adapt to protect the body. In other words, modern probiotic technology allows dentists and clinicians to treat a range of dental and medical conditions with no ill side effects.
All said and done, dentists should understand that clinical recommendations are founded only on research that examines a specific strain of probiotic, strain blend, patient group, condition, or dose. Since this is a rapidly growing field of study, it’s highly recommended that dentists remain updated by reading news studies and journals that publish current recommendations.