Antibiotics, Prebiotics, and Probiotics in Oral Care: Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom

Woman in dental chair going through oral treatment

Our mouths contain a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria that can easily be disrupted, leading to oral health issues.

Antibiotics, prebiotics, and oral care probiotics each play a unique role in harnessing the wisdom of nature to care for our oral microbiome.

What Do Antibiotics Do?

Antibiotics are antimicrobial substances that destroy or inhibit the growth of susceptible organisms. When it comes to our mouth, antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but also good bacteria needed for oral health.

Benefits of Antibiotics

When used properly, antibiotics can eliminate harmful oral bacteria that cause infection and inflammation. This allows the good bacteria to recover and repopulate the mouth.

Drawbacks of Antibiotics

However, excessive antibiotic use can disrupt the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in the mouth, leading to oral thrush or overgrowth of yeast and other microbes. This disturbance is called dysbiosis.

What Do Prebiotics Do?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of advantageous bacteria in the mouth and throughout the body. They act as “fertilizer” for the good bacteria.

Benefits of Prebiotics

Regularly consuming prebiotic fibers found in whole, plant foods can increase good bacteria in the mouth. This enhances the mouth’s defenses against cavity-causing bacteria and inflammation.

Drawbacks of Prebiotics

For some people, increasing fiber intake too quickly can cause temporary gas and bloating until their digestive system adjusts. Slowly increasing prebiotic foods prevents this.

What Do Probiotics Do?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed. Oral care probiotics contain strains of bacteria that naturally occur in a balanced oral microbiome.

Benefits of Probiotics

Daily oral probiotic use can increase good bacteria levels in the mouth, crowd out bad bacteria, and strengthen teeth and gum defenses. This optimizes oral health and prevents issues like bad breath.

Drawbacks of Probiotics

Some people may initially experience mild side effects from oral probiotics like temporary changes in taste sensation or mouth feel. This adjustment period passes quickly.

How Do Oral Care Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Antibiotics Harness Nature’s Wisdom?

Our mouths naturally contain all the microscopic allies we need for optimal oral health. We just have to nourish our good bacteria with prebiotics and replenish them if lost with antibiotic use through probiotics.

A good way to nourish our mouths with good bacteria is by using mouthwash, and this doesn’t apply only to adults. Using probiotic-rich mouthwash can help set your child up for a healthier oral microbiome. This allows our oral ecosystem to harness its innate wisdom and keep our mouths functioning at their best.

Are Probiotics Good For Oral Health? Examples of Oral Care Probiotics, Antibiotics, and Prebiotics

Some common oral care probiotics include strains like Streptococcus salivarius, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacterium found naturally in breast milk. These beneficial bacteria help balance the oral microbiome.

Oral antibiotics like penicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline, and metronidazole kill pathogenic bacteria but also eliminate good bacteria. Essential oil extracts like tea tree oil have similar antibacterial effects while being more selective. All should be used cautiously.

Prebiotic fibers and complex carbs that feed good oral bacteria are found in foods like apples, onions, garlic, bananas, greens, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. Xylitol as a sugar substitute also has prebiotic effects.

Adding an oral care probiotic, limiting antibiotics, using selective antibacterials like essential oils, and increasing prebiotic whole foods together help maintain a balance between good and bad oral bacteria for better defense.

How to Find the Right Oral Care Products

Knowing when to shop for what oral care product is probably one of the most difficult things we at the Super Dentists hear from patients. Lots of sites and even dentists promote a “one-size-fits-all” approach, making declarative statements such as “Fluoride is good” or “Antibiotics are bad”. As with the rest of life, this kind of black and white thinking is potentially dangerous.

As you are hopefully beginning to understand, there are times (like having an infection) where using an antibiotic or antiseptic rinse can be helpful. There are also times when using fluoride may be helpful (i.e. for adults who have had many recent cavities). Just about anyone can benefit from oral care products that cater to mouth pH.

Unfortunately, finding research-backed oral care products that promote a healthy oral microbiome is hard!

This leads many in search of “natural” products towards products that have few, if any, benefits. On the other end of the spectrum, others immediately discount products that are not “mainstream”, heading to the shelves of local drug stores or supermarkets for products with forever chemicals and microplastics in them.

There’s got to be a better way, right? Yes! There are, luckily, mouthcare products out there that are both science-based and potentially less harmful to you, your family, and the environment than big-name-brand items. In fact, there are entire mouthcare systems available that take into account you and your child’s age and stage of life as well as other factors, combining ingredients that promote a healthy oral microbiome with fun elements that make mouthcare fun.

Final Thoughts

Maintaining a healthy balance between good and bad oral bacteria improves your mouth’s natural defenses against pathogens, inflammation, and disease.

A comprehensive oral care regimen utilizing oral care probiotics, prebiotics, and antibiotics when necessary, allows us to harness time-tested natural wisdom for the best oral health possible.

Check out Dr. Kami Hoss’s book, “If Your Mouth Could Talk” to learn more about the connection between oral and overall health.

Looking for oral care products with probiotics now? Find the right products for your child based on their age and stage in life by taking the SuperMouth quiz.

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About the Author

About Dr. Kami Hoss

Dr. Kami Hoss is a nationally sought-after expert with a master’s in craniofacial biology from USC, a doctorate in dental surgery from UCLA, and a post-doctorate in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. With over 25 years of experience in the dental field, Dr. Hoss is a #1 National Best Seller author frequently featured on NBC, ABC, FOX, NPR, and CBS affiliates, and founder of The Super Dentists, one of the leading multi-specialty dental practices in the country.

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