Ask the Dentist: Taking antibiotics for longer can have knock-on microbiome effects

Antibiotics are being taken for longer due to having to wait for dental treatment in the pandemic but this can lead to 'good bacteria' deficits, writes Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

Eating foods beneficial to the microbes in our gut, such as widely available live yoghurt, helps our body get back to normal functioning after a course of antibiotics
Lucy Stock

DELAYS in getting dental treatment have led to an increase in the amount and length of time that antibiotics are being taken to dampen down infections. While this may produce short-term comfort, it can play havoc with the body's finely tuned bacterial balance, giving unpleasant side effects.

There are trillions of bacteria and fungi in every crease and crevice of your digestive tract. Your gut microbiome influences your weight, metabolism, immune system and even your mood.

Your microbiome includes many types of fungi, one of which is called candida. Candida normally goes around not giving any bother; however, if antibiotics jiggle your microbiome, this can allow an overgrowth of the white patchy infection called candidiasis or thrush.

Studies show that multiple courses of antibiotics result in the most damage and that high doses over prolonged periods of time have the biggest impact. When thrush gets going it can make your tongue feel like it's burning or cause cracks at the sides of your lips and even give an irritating cough.

Luckily, thrush isn't contagious but it is painful and can make eating and drinking more of a challenge. After a course of antifungal medication to reduce the candida, get started on rebalancing your microbiome. According to studies, the richer and more diverse your gut microbes are, the lower your risk of disease and allergies.

Fortunately, there's quite a lot that you can do to reverse some of this damage, and it hinges on promoting a better environment for your good bacteria to get re-established again.

First one is simple: drink water and remain hydrated. Arm yourself with a toothbrush and keep your teeth spit-spot clean, cut down on cigarettes, processed foods and artificial sweeteners.

You can also consider taking a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus, such as live bacteria yoghurts. Saccharomyces boulardii is a beneficial yeast that also helps stop the spread of candida.

Eating a rainbow diet that's high in fibre-rich and fermentable foods gives the best environment for your good gut bacteria to rebalance, so that means lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and natto.

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