Background. Probiotics are living micro-organisms added to food which beneficially affect the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance.
Objective. This paper aims to present a general background on probiotics and its health effects in children, and to examine the evidence for oral colonization and the possible impact on oral health in children and young adults.
Methods. For delivery and general health effects, recent systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and other relevant papers were used. Concerning oral installation and oral effects, a broad search for publications in English was conducted through February 2007 in PubMed. Studies describing an installation or intervention trial in humans with a controlled design and an oral endpoint measure were considered. Fourteen papers with dental focus were identified, of which two were narrative reviews.
Results. Only one study of dental interest was conducted in children. Four papers dealt with oral installation of probiotic bacteria, and although detectable levels were found in saliva shortly after intake, the studies failed to demonstrate a long-term installation. Seven papers evaluated the effect of lactobacilli- or bifidobacteria-derived probiotics on the salivary levels of caries-associated bacteria in placebo-controlled designs. All but one reported a hampering effect on mutans streptococci and/or yeast. The single study carried out in early childhood reported a significant caries reduction in 3- to 4-year-old children after 7 months of daily consumption of probiotic milk.
Conclusion. Bacteriotheraphy in the form of probiotic bacteria with an inhibitory effect on oral pathogens is a promising concept, especially in childhood, but this may not necessarily lead to improved oral health. Further placebo controlled trials that assess carefully selected and defined probiotic strains using standardized outcomes are needed before any clinical recommendations can be made.