July 2013

Probiotics May Reduce Levels of Tooth Decay-Causing Bacteria

Probiotics may help prevent the development of tooth decay by reducing a type of bacteria that is responsible, a study reports.

Taking good care of dental health can help prevent disease in the mouth and throughout the body. The health of the mouth can be an indicator of the individual's overall health. Many serious diseases, such as diabetes, human immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV), and some eating disorders (such as bulimia), show their first signs as symptoms in the mouth, such as oral thrush (an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth). It is for these reasons that healthcare professionals recommend complete, yearly oral exams.

Dental problems include dental cavities, gum diseases (such as gingivitis and periodontitis), canker sores (aphthous stomatitis), mucositis, fungal infections, oral leukoplakia, and oral cancer. The most common oral health problems are cavities and gum disease (including gingivitis and periodontitis). Most adults show signs of gum disease during their lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), gum disease affects about 14 percent of adults aged 45-54 years. Signs and symptoms of soft tissue diseases such as cold sores are common in adults and affect about 19 percent of those aged 25-44 years.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (sometimes referred to as "friendly germs") that help to maintain the health of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion. They also help keep potentially harmful organisms in the gut (harmful bacteria and yeasts) under control. Most probiotics come from food sources, especially cultured milk products. Probiotics can be consumed as capsules, tablets, beverages, powders, yogurts, and other foods.

Probiotics are thought to work by colonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing organisms, thereby restoring proper balance to the intestinal flora. They compete with harmful organisms for nutrients and may also produce substances that inhibit growth of harmful organisms in the gut. Probiotic bacteria have been found to stimulate the body's immune system. They may also aid in several gastrointestinal illnesses such as inflammatory bowel diseases, antibiotic-related diarrhea, Clostridium difficile toxin-induced colitis, infectious diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, irritable bowel syndrome and allergies.

In the current study, researchers evaluated trials looking at the potential impact of probiotics on the development of tooth decay. They conducted a review of 66 papers, of which 23 fulfilled their criteria.

The trials suggested that probiotics may help reduce levels of a bacteria called mutans streptococci (MS), which is found in the mouth and may be a significant contributor to tooth decay. The researchers reported that about two-thirds of the papers they evaluated reported that probiotics may help prevent the spread of MS in saliva or plaque in the short term.

The authors concluded that although these results are promising; however, more high-quality studies are needed before firm conclusions can be made.

For more information about probiotics, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Cagetti MG, Mastroberardino S, Milia E, et al. The use of probiotic strains in caries prevention: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2013 Jul 5;5(7):2530-50. doi: 10.3390/nu5072530. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.