What do YOU know about dental plaque? Besides the fact that commercials about toothpaste and mouthwashes are always talking about getting rid of plaque, do you actually know what plaque is and why you should remove it? While learning everything about dental plaque is probably not one of the most important things in your life, it is still good to know a little about plaque so that you can properly take care of your teeth. To make things easier, here are some of the facts about plaque:
Plaque is a clear, sticky film filled with microorganisms that coats the entire surface of your teeth. It is primarily composed of water, however dried dental plaque has been found to be made up of 70% bacteria. Currently, as many as 1,000 different species of bacteria have been identified in plaque. Because of the fact that plaque contains microorganisms such as bacteria, it has also been referred to as biofilm, oral biofilm, microbial plaque, dental plaque biofilm, or bacterial plaque biofilm.
Plaque can be found in one of two different places, either above or below the gums. When plaque is found above the gums, it is called supragingival plaque. This type of plaque is the first type to form, about 4 to 12 hours after brushing. It is also made up of aerobic bacteria that require oxygen to survive. The other type of dental plaque that occurs below the gums is known as subgingival plaque. This type of plaque forms after supragingival plaque and is made up of anaerobic bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-free environment.
The key variable that both types of plaque have is that they both accumulate on the surface of the tooth. This is because the teeth do not shed like other parts of the body. This makes the surface of the teeth an ideal place for uninterrupted plaque growth. Additionally, the mouth provides an ideal environment for the growth of both bacteria and plaque. For starters, the mouth is both warm and moist, which is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Additionally, plaque forms at around a pH of 6.7 to 8.3, and saliva falls right in the middle with a pH of 7. Not only that, but the bacteria found in dental plaque can feed off of sugars from the various foods and beverages consumed through the mouth.
Although bacteria is a naturally occurring organism in the mouth, it can cause problems when too much bacteria is present. Since plaque houses bacteria and traps food particles, the more plaque that resides on your teeth means the more bacteria that will also reside on your teeth. When bacteria collect on the surface of the teeth they produce acidic waste products. When large amounts of bacteria concentrate in one specific area, this causes the enamel to erode. Over time, the constant exposure to acids will result in the formation of a dental cavity. Additionally, when large amounts of bacteria are present in the mouth, this can make your saliva more acidic than normal. This will increase the rate of tooth decay, as well as impair your mouth’s ability to clean itself.
However, bacteria is not only detrimental to your tooth enamel. In fact excess bacteria is one of the leading causes of gum disease. Gum disease comes in two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can occur when bacteria accumulate along the gum line and cause the tissue to become inflamed. In cases where gingivitis is not properly treated, this can cause the bacteria to migrate down underneath the gums where it can lead to deterioration of the jaw bone. This is known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease and is the leading cause of tooth loss.
For these reasons, it is important to regulate the amount of plaque on your teeth. Generally speaking, the best way to do this is to follow your dentist’s guidelines of brushing twice a day and flossing daily. You should also visit your dentist once every 6 months for a professional cleaning and dental exam. Professional cleanings are highly beneficial because they allow your dentist to clean areas of your teeth that you may have missed. Regular dental exams also allow your dentist to identify any potential problems early on.