Consider your mouth a reenactment of the Wild West, replete with heroes and villains. The streptococcus salivarius bacteria are the “good guys” with the job of keeping the “bad guys,” the streptococcus mutans, at bay. At stake is your oral health and the prevention of such common conditions as tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease).

It can be an ongoing battle, with the good bacteria supported by good oral health practices and now, according to recent studies, the use of probiotics. The trick is keeping the bad bacteria in check, preventing it from colonizing on the surface of the teeth and breaking down the enamel.

Probiotics are microorganisms like bacteria or yeast that have been shown to improve digestive health and may offer benefits in terms of oral health as well. They are available in such products as gum, mints, lozenges, toothpaste and mouthwash.

It is estimated that 80 percent of adults suffer from either gingivitis, tooth decay, cavities and/or periodontitis. The theory is that by using probiotic supplements in addition to brushing and flossing regularly and seeing the dentist several times a year, you can help the good bacteria dominate in your mouth and lessen the chance of disease occurring.

Probiotic mints, for example, have been found to contain strands of good bacteria which help fight bad breath and provide for healthy teeth and gums. These bacteria also cause the bad bacteria to stick to teeth, making it easier to brush, floss or rinse away.