Bacteria may improve dental health

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Periodontitis is a serious inflammation of the gum tissue that can result in loss of teeth and bone if not treated appropriately. It typically results from poor oral hygiene that allows bacteria to form a sticky film, or plaque, on the teeth. If left alone, the plaque can develop into hard tartar that can interfere with the connection between teeth and gums, allowing pockets of pathogenic bacteria to form. In addition to local problems in the mouth, periodontitis can also result in cardiovascular disease if bacteria are introduced into the bloodstream.

The usual treatment for periodontitis is scaling and root planing scraping the tartar off the teeth, and sometimes actually planing the surface of the roots to smooth them. It may be possible to enhance the success of such treatments with the use of lozenges containing a non-pathogenic bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, Dr. Wim Teughels from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, and colleagues tested this effect. The investigators randomly assigned 30 patients with chronic periodontitis to one of two groups. One group used two L. reuteri-containing lozenges per day for 12 weeks, while the second group used lozenges containing a placebo.

At the end of the 12-week study, the patients who used the L. reuteri lozenges had significantly greater improvement compared to those using the placebos. The active lozenge group had significantly greater reduction in the depth of the pockets between teeth and gums, and significantly fewer pathogenic bacteria.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava observed While this is a small study, it was well-designed and controlled. If it is replicated it may be possible to substantially reduce the risk of tooth loss and subsequently the necessity for dental surgery. Of course, she continued, the best treatment is prevention, which can typically be as simple as brushing and flossing regularly.