More than 700 kinds of bacteria can live in your mouth — some helpful, and some harmful. Don’t run for your toothbrush or mouthwash just yet. As long as they’re in balance, the “good” kind keep the “bad” ones from hurting you.
But if that balance gets out of whack, the harmful ones can take hold and lead to gum disease.
You might have heard how good bacteria in certain foods and supplements (called probiotics) may help with this kind of imbalance in your gut. Well, scientists are finding that they may help fight gum disease in much the same way.
That might give you and your dentist another tool to use to treat or prevent gum issues along with the standard ones.
How Does the Imbalance Happen?
Researchers are still trying to sort out what lets the harmful bacteria go to work in your mouth. The triggers can include:
- Not taking care of your teeth and gums. This lets the bad bacteria multiply and shifts the balance.
- A weak immune system. This can affect the way the bacteria in your mouth relate to one another and give the harmful kind an advantage.
- Your body’s genetic blueprint. Some people may not have enough of the helpful bacteria, or they may be more likely to have the bad kind.
- Dry mouth. Your saliva has substances that help fight harmful bacteria. But some medicines, like painkillers and decongestants, can affect how much you have.
How Does That Lead to Gum Disease?
An imbalance of bacteria can affect your body’s defenses and keep your white blood cells from killing harmful bacteria. Those bacteria can inflame your gums. That inflammation, in turn, gives off chemicals that feed bad bacteria, which multiply. More bacteria inflame your gums and start to eat away at the bone that anchors your teeth.
If this goes on long enough, your gums and the bone that supports your teeth can be ruined. You might end up losing teeth.
And if you have too many harmful bacteria in your mouth, they can move to other parts of your body and may be linked to:
Probiotics and Gum Disease
A group of helpful bacteria called lactobacilli can fight several kinds of bad bacteria and may help restore a healthy balance in your mouth.
Researchers put some of this bacteria into chewing gum and asked people with the gum disease gingivitis to use it every day. (With gingivitis, your gums are red and swollen and bleed easily.) After 2 weeks, the teeth of the people in the study had less plaque — the clear, sticky film that can cause cavities or gum disease.
Another study found that lozenges with the same kind of bacteria also helped with inflammation and plaque.
If you have gum disease or are worried about it, talk with your dentist about whether a probiotic like this might be good for you. But remember that the most important things you can do to guard against gum disease are to brush and floss your teeth.