Halitosis is a worldwide problem, and one that requires a comprehensive and effective solution. If a new investigation conducted by the Department of Paediatrics at Turkey's Fatih University is any indication, probiotic care products may fit the bill.
The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons - Pakistan. In it, scientists examined the effect that probiotics had on the oral odor of healthy children and teens, as well as on the microbial populations of their digestive tracts.
But wait, you might be saying, what does a person's intestinal health have to do with their breath? Directly, not much. But obliquely, the bacteria found in the gut can tell you quite a bit about those that populate the mouth, palate and throat.
In fact, the person who invented - or more accurately, discovered - probiotics did so because he suspected that digestive health hinged, in part, on the bacteria in a person's body.
The year was 1907, and Russian biologist, zoologist and all-around smart guy Ilya Mechnikov believed he was on to something. As a colleague of Louis Pasteur, France's beloved founder of modern microbiology, Mechnikov was confident of his ability to figure out why bacteria matter. (In fact, he would win the Nobel Prize for Medicine just one year later, for his pioneering work on white blood cells.) But in 1907, he was fascinated by milk.
But not the "pasteurized" kind (a word coined to give credit to his old mentor). No, Mechnikov was thinking about spoiled milk, and what it might offer the body.
He knew that the microbes found in fermented dairy products were not all "bad" - that is, some of them seemed to have positive effects when introduced to other bacteria under a microscope. Mechnikov even thought he noticed that some microorganisms actually crowd out others.
So he put his theory to the test, risking (and probably getting) bad breath by repeatedly drinking spoiled milk.
The outcome intrigued him. Mechnikov claimed to feel that his digestion was improving. He didn't take the experiment much farther than that, but other investigators followed in his footsteps, ultimately creating a new branch of study: probiotics.
Today, researchers are constantly looking for ways to determine the positive health effects of "good" bacteria. One of the most useful strains is called Lactobacillus salivarius K12.
This species of microbe does something very special. When introduced into the mouth, it rapidly multiplies and crowds out other, odor-causing bacteria. And even better, it creates a group of proteins called bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances (BLIS), which act like an organic weed-killer. BLIS molecules kill bad-breath-causing bacteria and prevent them from regrowing.
And apparently that's not all that probiotic care products are good for. In the new Turkish study, researchers used comparative analysis of microbes (the same method Mechnikov used in 1908!) to determine whether or not kids with high counts of one microbial species (Helicobacter pylori) in their intestines tend to have halitosis more often.
The study determined that, for good or ill, that variety of intestinal bacteria has little or nothing to do with bad breath. However, the team also noted that treating a person's digestive tract with probiotics seemed to reduce the incidence of oral odor.
Not bad for an hygiene method that began with spoiled dairy products!
So if you have bad breath, don't cry over spilled milk. Instead, take your oral hygiene by the reins and use probiotic care products to freshen your breath now and later.