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Ask Tufts Experts July 2017 Issue

Q. A probiotic supplement claimed it supports the health of teeth and gums. Do these really help?

A. Carole Palmer, EdD, RD, a professor at Tufts' University School of Dental Medicine and the Friedman School, assisted by Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center dietetic interns Cara D’Anello and Lydia Fernandes, responds: "Our mouth is teeming with bacteria (as is the rest of our body), and certain types can be involved in a variety of oral health problems. So, it's reasonable to wonder if probiotic supplements comprised of various combinations of beneficial bacteria might aid dental health.

"Researchers are currently studying many promising areas in which specific probiotics may be beneficial to oral health. However, most of the results to date are preliminary and far from conclusive. So, we can only speculate as to what evidence is behind a general claim of ‘supports the health of teeth and gums' on a probiotic supplement and what benefits might be expected. For example, does it mean the probiotics might help soft tissues like the gums, tongue and cheeks become more resistant to bacterial infection? Or, does it mean the probiotics might actively prevent gum disease (gingivitis/periodontal disease), improve the teeth’s resistance to decay or interfere with the bacterial processes that cause decay?

"Any such potential benefits of probiotic supplements in the oral cavity would depend upon whether they are appropriate to the specific oral problem at hand. That means having the right bacterial composition, dosage level and vehicle for delivery, which may be either directly to oral tissues (for example, by injecting them under the gums or providing them in chewing gum or dissolvable lozenges) or indirectly via salivary or bloodstream effects of a swallowed supplement. Considering these variables, unless your dentist recommends specific probiotics for a certain oral condition, we suggest you pass up such supplements at this time."

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