What is dental plaque?
All of us heard about dental plaque, from many sources? But what is plaque? Where does it come from? What does it do?
Dental plaque is a sticky, colorless film that can attach to your teeth and cause many health problems. Dental plaque is what’s known as a biofilm. Biofilms are sticky coatings made of microorganisms that adhere to each other and to a surface. In the case of dental plaque, the microorganisms are bacteria that inhabit your mouth.
The problem with dental plaque, though your saliva helps to protect you against some bacteria, it can’t always do the job for you. There are more than 500 species of bacteria that thrive in your mouth at any given time. These invaders constantly form dental plaque.
How Does Plaque Grow on Your Teeth?
Plaque is always forming on your teeth. The process works like this:
- First, a layer of saliva, called the dental pellicle, forms on the surface of the teeth.
- Soon, bacteria begin to bind themselves to the pellicle.
- Once attached, the bacteria begin to multiply, spreading to other parts of the mouth.
- The bacteria begin to form microcolonies, and they secrete a protective coating known as the slime layer.
- The microcolonies grow larger and more complex.
- The film develops its own rudimentary circulatory system.
The only way to interrupt the cycle is by brushing the plaque off of your teeth. And don’t underestimate the importance of flossing as well. Even if your teeth are perfectly straight, the surfaces on the sides of your teeth are covered by other teeth, and your toothbrush’s bristles can’t reach in-between them. Flossing is the only way to remove plaque from these areas. If your teeth are crooked, you may have even more overlapping tooth surfaces that require diligent plaque removal.
Your mouth is a source of infection
If you are not brushing and flossing on a regular basis to keep your teeth clean, plaque will build up along your gum line, creating an environment allowing additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between the teeth and gums. This gum infection is known as gingivitis. If it is left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more rapid gum infection called periodontitis. The most intense form of gum infection is called acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, also known as trench mouth. More involved dental treatments-even sometimes just routine brushing and flossing if you already have gum disease-can provide an entry for these microbes to your bloodstream. Some medications that minimize saliva flow can also allow bacteria into your bloodstream.
Plaque a Cause of Many Health Conditions?
A long-term gum infection can result in loss of your teeth. But that may not be all… Research shows that there may be an affiliation between oral infections and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and preterm birth.
- Diabetes; if you have diabetes you are already at a high risk of developing gum disease, however chronic gum disease may make diabetes more difficult to control. The infection may cause insulin resistance.
- Cardiovascular disease; Gingivitis may also play a part in clogged arteries and blood clots. Research shows that the bacteria in the mouth may cause inflammation throughout the entire body which includes the arteries. Some research shows that gum infections are also linked to increases risk of heart attack and stroke. The bigger the infection, the higher the risk.
- Preterm birth; Research estimates that 18% of preterm, low birth weight babies born in the USA each year may be attributed to oral infections. The oral bacteria reach the placenta through the mother’s bloodstream and disrupt the growth and development of the fetus. Also the oral infection causes the mother to create labor triggering substances very quickly, potentially triggering premature labor.
What Happens When Plaque is Not Removed?
If you don’t remove the dental plaque from your teeth, the bacteria will continue to grow. They feed on the same food particles and beverages that you put in your mouth and convert sugars and starches into enamel-eroding acids.
On the other hand, over time, the plaque that’s not removed can harden. This happens when the plaque absorbs minerals that are in your saliva. This harder substance, more difficult to remove than plaque, has a different name: tartar. While brushing and flossing can clean the plaque off of your teeth, tartar is a more intractable problem. Plaque is sticky, but soft enough to come off on your toothbrush or floss. Tartar usually needs to be removed with special tools at your dentist’s office.
Plaque and tartar not only form on the visible surfaces of the teeth, they also form just below the gumline. If you don’t regularly brush and floss, the plaque and tartar that build up under your gums can eventually cause gum disease. This is a serious problem, as gum disease is linked to several dangerous health problems, mentioned above, like heart disease and strokes.
You can fight plaque by brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once daily, as well as with regular visits to your dentist.