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    Why bacteria aren’t always bad for your mouth

    You’ve likely heard that probiotics can be good for gut health. But did you know they may also have benefits for your smile?

    What are probiotics?

    Though you may think of all bacteria as harmful, many are actually good for you. Probiotics are live bacteria and/or yeasts that can benefit your health — sometimes referred to as friendly or healthy bacteria.

    Probiotic bacteria live naturally in your body but can also be found in many enriched and fermented foods, including:

    check-mark-green Most yogurts

    check-mark-green Cultured cottage cheese and buttermilk 

    check-mark-green Soft cheeses

    check-mark-green Kefir (fermented milk)

    check-mark-green Miso (fermented soybean paste)

    check-mark-green Tempeh (fermented soybean blocks)

    check-mark-green Kimchi (fermented vegetables)

    check-mark-green Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

    check-mark-green Kombucha (fermented drink)

    Probiotics are also available in some dietary supplements, including lozenges, pills, tablets and powders, and in some oral health products like probiotic mouthwash that reduces bad bacteria in your mouth.

    How do probiotics work?

    Your body has trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics make up the good bacteria that help keep you healthy.

    Different types of probiotics have different effects. For instance, probiotics that benefit oral health may be different than the ones that aid in gut health. The probiotics that may improve oral health appear to promote the growth of good bacteria in the mouth. At the same time, these probiotics reduce the growth of harmful bacteria that produce infection — helping you maintain a healthier balance.

    What effects do probiotics have on oral health?

    Although more research is needed, some studies show bacteria with probiotic effects may help:

    check-mark-green Fight plaque and tooth decay

    check-mark-green Stop bad breath

    check-mark-green Reduce inflammation from gum disease

    check-mark-green Prevent oral cancer

    Good probiotic bacteria occur naturally in your body. For most people, maintaining a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria is simply a matter of eating right. Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that’s rich in fiber and includes some fermented foods.

    While probiotic supplements are generally considered safe, the risk of harmful effects is greater for those who are severely ill or have compromised immune systems. If you do decide to take supplements, don’t exceed the manufacturer’s recommended dosage. If a probiotic is sold as a dietary supplement, it doesn’t require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unless the product makes health claims. So if you consider taking a probiotic dietary supplement, talk with your dentist or physician first to make sure it’s safe and beneficial for you. 

    Probiotics are not a substitute for great oral health care. Make sure to continue to see your dentist regularly and maintain regular daily oral hygiene.