Probiotics have been studied extensively both for gut and oral health. But prebiotics, the relatively new player, have entered the dental scene too with a plethora of benefits.
But prebiotics aren’t talked about nearly enough, even though they are “make or break” when it comes to the oral microbiome and gut health.
Both probiotics and prebiotics are beneficial for propagating “good bacteria” in your oral cavity and gut. Like what happens in your gut, good bacteria grow naturally in your oral cavity when the environment is favorable. But good bacteria can also grow when you take probiotics, living microbes that provide health benefits to the host when used in adequate amounts.1
Over the past decade, growing evidence has suggested that several probiotic bacterial strains currently used for gut health can also be used for oral health.2 And it’s not surprising. Probiotics have a host of benefits.
Perhaps, the most significant benefit of probiotics in the mouth is that they maintain a balanced microbiome. Probiotics also help to prevent cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and candidiasis (oral thrush). They also prevent bacteria from sticking to teeth and gums and stop the growth of bacteria in your mouth.
But here’s what we’ve discovered. There’s another major player that is arguably more important than probiotics. Say hello to prebiotics—the organisms that fuel probiotics.
In this article, we will explain what prebiotics are, how they are different from probiotics, their key benefits, and how to use them to improve your oral health.
What are prebiotics, and how are they different from probiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestible oligosaccharides that are used as supplements because they have a synergistic relationship with probiotics. Prebiotics are to probiotics what fertilizer is to a garden—without prebiotics, those beneficial bacteria cannot thrive.
All the probiotics in the world aren’t going to make a difference if the environment to which they’ve been added doesn’t allow those friendly bacteria to thrive.
In other words, prebiotics increase the effectiveness of probiotics.1 They encourage good bacteria, like probiotics, to grow, while discouraging the growth of harmful bacteria. So it’s not that prebiotics are necessarily better than probiotics, but they are more important because of their beneficial properties to probiotics.
How do prebiotics make probiotics grow? Prebiotics act as a selective growth substrate for probiotics.1 This means that other types of microbes do not benefit from prebiotics, except probiotics. Prebiotics can be paired with selected probiotic strains for optimal effect.
But what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? There’s a really simple answer. Prebiotics are non-living, while probiotics are living microorganisms.
Key benefits of prebiotics
Prebiotics offer great benefits. Let’s discuss some of these advantages.
- Prebiotics keep the oral microbiome balanced
Your oral microbiome is comprised of hundreds of billions of microorganisms living in your mouth. When the amount and types of bacteria in your mouth are balanced, your dental health is at its peak.
A balanced oral microbiome can prevent dental infections and keep cavity-causing bacteria in check.
Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics. This means that because prebiotics are present, the probiotics, which are good bacteria, will continue to survive. By helping to populate good bacteria, prebiotics reduce potentially harmful bacteria and create a healthy balance in the oral microbiome.
Common dental diseases caused by an imbalanced oral microbiome include3:
- Oral candidiasis (thrush)
Without prebiotics to fuel probiotics and keep harmful bacteria at bay, probiotics can’t effectively reduce dental diseases3.
- Prebiotics strengthen the immune system
One key function of prebiotics is to strengthen the immune system.3
There is scientific evidence that prebiotics don’t just offer benefits to probiotics, they also directly influence the health of the host positively.
Prebiotics cause certain immune responses, including:
- Stimulation of the cytokine IL-10 that has anti-inflammatory properties
- Stimulation of the cytokine interferon-gamma that activates macrophages and killer T cells
- Enhancement of IgA secretion
- Modulation of inflammatory responses to harmful bacteria
Foods with prebiotics
Incorporating foods that contain prebiotics into your diet is the best way to make sure your oral microbiome stays balanced.
Prebiotics can be found in the following foods:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Red wine
- Maple syrup
Pick a prebiotic-rich food you like and try to incorporate it into your meals for a week.
In fact, I have created an easy-to-make recipe for a “microbiome omelet” chuck full of ingredients from this list. I developed the microbiome omelet to help feed your good oral bacteria and prevent dysbiosis or imbalance. Another recipe, my nephew’s 5-Minute Paleo Tuna Salad, is also great for your oral microbiome.
It can be hard to get prebiotics into our diet from food sources alone. So if none of the foods containing prebiotics excite your taste buds, prebiotic powders are also an option. I specifically recommend this food-based prebiotic powder. You can add prebiotic powders to juices and smoothies to make sure you are getting prebiotics daily.
How to use prebiotics to improve oral health
To get the oral health benefits of prebiotics, eat foods rich in prebiotics daily.
Maximize the impact of the prebiotics by combining with an oral probiotic lozenge or chewable tablet.
Prebiotics and probiotics work together to improve your dental health. You should aim to consume prebiotics daily to increase their presence in your oral microbiome when you consume probiotics.
- Reddy RS, Swapna L, Ramesh T, Singh TR, Vijayalaxmi N, Lavanya R. Bacteria in oral health-probiotics and prebiotics a review. Int J Biol Med Res. 2011;2(4):1226-1233.
- Haukioja A. Probiotics and oral health. Eur J Dent. 2010;4(3):348-355.
- Devine DA, Marsh PD. Prospects for the development of probiotics and prebiotics for oral applications. J Oral Microbiol. 2009;1. doi:10.3402/jom.v1i0.1949
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