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Dr. Harold Katz

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Bad Breath? How Probiotics Can Help

Posted: 06/15/11 06:55 PM ET

If you're staying on top of the world of health products, you already know about probiotics. Different from antibiotics, probiotics are a natural way to help your body defend against outside predators. May sound a bit militaristic, but actually probiotics are about trumping bad bacteria with the good. If you've missed the probiotic boat, fear not! You can start now and never be behind. Here are some noteworthy mentions of probiotics to get you up to speed.

There are many ways to freshen one's breath, from odor-neutralizing tablets to oral rinses. One of the most cutting-edge methods of stopping halitosis is oral care probiotics, according to one article. First, some basics: A lot of mouth odor comes from way further down the gastrointestinal (GI) track, and is caused by how the bacteria that inhabit your GI track metabolize the food you send down there. So changing your bacteria can often change the odors from your mouth.

Oral care probiotics is a system of bacterial replacement that may be quite effective in stopping oral odor. A study published in the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology echoes this idea. This study was conducted as a review of the advances probiotics have made in the previous year. Results proclaim that this was a great year for probiotics because of products such as oral care probiotics that can be used to treat numerous conditions, halitosis being one of them. Probiotics can help replace the odor-causing oral bacteria with other harmless ones.

Basically, oral probiotics contain "good" bacteria that replace or eliminate "bad" bacteria in the body. Recently, there has been an oral care probiotic that will actually benefit the oral cavity itself. How did probiotics come to be?

According to the journal Communicating Current Research and Educational Topics and Trends in Applied Microbiology, Nobelist and Ukrainian scientist Elie Metchnikoff first discovered probiotics in 1907. Metchnikoff posited that flora growing in the stomach and intestine could be changed by replacing them with new bacteria. He also hypothesized that bacteria within the gut caused aging. He coined the term "gerontology," meaning the study of longevity. This idea has been disproven, but his other probiotic theory has caught wind. It is possible that ingesting milk or yogurt might change the bacteria composition in the gastrointestinal tract.

Studies have also indicated that oral health can be improved through the use of oral care probiotics -- more research is still being done, but there have been great advances made. The European Journal of Pediatrics published a study in 2001 that discusses finding the use of a harmless strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) greatly improved bad breath that came from gastric gases. Yet another, more recent study in the journal Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontology showed that Lactobacillus salivarius may combat bad breath coming from the mouth. In this study, Japanese researchers gave subjects with halitosis low amounts of L. salivarius and found that after a month, participants' oral levels of sulfur-producing compounds had significantly decreased. The Journal of Applied Microbiology also published a study that found a week-long course of L. salivarius dramatically dropped the amount of volatile sulfur compounds in the oral cavity.

As noted in an article, a study in the International Journal of Contemporary Dentistry noted that adding Streptococcus salivarius bacteria into the mouth after rinsing with mouthwash can reduce levels of sulfur on one's breath -- meaning less bad breath. Researchers stated oral care probiotics are able to reduce halitosis by muscling out harmful (and halitosis-producing) bacteria with strains that will not produce oral odors. Other noteworthy applications of beneficial bacteria strains can help the body's resistance to (and may reduce occurrences) of gum disease, cavities, sore throats and more.

Another article notes the ever-increasing amount of positive studies being published for oral care probiotics. A Swedish study found that the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus may have many benefits for users' oral health. These beneficial bugs might combat many harmful bacteria that cause the most severe dental problems. Unfortunately, only a small amount of people have active amounts of these microbes naturally in their mouths. Studies done in the 1960s initially showed that 30 to 40 percent of people had Lactobacillus. However, a current study found that this number has sharply decreased to a mere 10 to 20 percent of people. What brought this drastic change? Researchers say it may be due to diet.

Gabriela Sinkiewicz, a Malmo University researcher that led this recent study believes that people don't eat as much fermented food (such as sauerkraut) and we use preservatives that kill bacteria in both the body and the food we consume. By introducing probiotics into the mouth, we may be able to fight off more harmful bacteria and stop them from infecting our mouths. So if your diet is full of preservatives, perhaps taking an oral care probiotic would be a good choice. Given the rise in probiotics, there is a variety to choose from. As stated earlier, there are now even oral care products that contain probiotics.

While tons of studies are continuing to be done, the articles above do point out the found benefits of using oral probiotics. It may seem like a lot of science, but the basic notion is simple: Beneficial bacteria found in probiotics can replace existing harmful ones. Perhaps probiotics are worth trying the next time you're looking for a fresh breath solution.

 

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