Sometimes people don’t take proper care of their teeth, whether that’s forgetting to brush twice a day, schedule regular appointments with their dentist, or both. No matter the reason, though, poor oral health is a sure-fire way to develop cavities. But according to a new study published in Applied Environmental Microbiology, probiotics can help.

Also known as good bacteria, probiotics are naturally found in the body, as well as some foods and supplements. There are several different types, but one strain newly discovered by researchers at the University of Florida may be able to prevent cavities. Study author Dr. Robert Burne, associate dean of research and chair of the UF College of Dentistry's department of restorative dental sciences, explained that in order to maintain a healthy mouth, the oral environment should have a neutral PH. Once the mouth becomes too acidic, cavities or other issues can develop.

"Bacteria on the teeth make acid and acid dissolves the teeth. It is straightforward chemistry," Burne said in a press release. "We got interested in what activities keep the PH elevated."

Burne and his colleagues already knew two compounds in the mouth, called urea and arginine, broke down into ammonia, which helps neutralize acidity. The researchers also knew adults and children with fewer or no cavities are better at breaking down arginine than those with cavities. While bacteria are responsible for breaking these compounds down, study authors were curious if any one strain did it better.

Turns out, a type of good bacteria called A12 can interfere and possibly kill Streptococcus mutans, a bad strain that can metabolize sugar into lactic acid — this contributes to acidic conditions in the mouth. When scientists grew the strains together, Burn said S. mutans neither grew well nor did it make biofilms, also known as dental plaque.

"Like a probiotic approach to the gut to promote health, what if a probiotic formulation could be developed from natural beneficial bacteria from humans who had a very high capacity to break down arginine?" Burne said. "You would implant this probiotic in a healthy child or adult who might be at risk for developing cavities. However many times you have to do that — once in a lifetime or once a week, the idea is that you could prevent a decline in oral health by populating the patient with natural beneficial organisms."

Dr. Marcelle Nascimento, an associate professor at the UF, would agree.

"We may be able to use this as a risk assessment tool," she said. "We get to the point where we can confirm that people who have more of this healthy type of bacteria in the mouth are at lower risk of cavities, compared to those who don’t carry the beneficial bacteria and may be at risk, this could be one of the factors you measure for cavities risk."

Source: Burne R, Nascimento M, et al. Characterization of a highly arginolytic Streptococcus species that potently antagonizes streptococcus mutants. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2016.