Most of us know that preventive dentistry is the best method for keeping our mouths healthy and beautiful, but maybe we don’t know why. At any given time, there are between 100 million to 1 billion bacteria living inside our mouths. These bacteria help our bodies break down food before it’s even hit our stomachs. Given the right circumstances, however, such as sugary food sources, specific bacteria can cultivate leading to the formation of dental plaque.
Dental plaque is one of our mouth’s biggest enemies. It’s what initiates tooth decay, cavities, infection, bad breath, and periodontal disease. Here are three interesting facts about plaque you might not know.
What is it?
Plaque is a soft, sticky film made of leftover food particles and bacteria present in saliva. The bacteria in plaque feeds off sugars and produces acidic substances which eat away at our enamel, eventually causing a cavity. If plaque isn’t removed in time by brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, and begin to infect gum tissue causing gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease.
How Does It Form?
Plaque develops from bacteria already present within the mouth. When these special types of bacteria are given circumstances in which they thrive, they’ll form plaque. The process starts when food enters the mouth and is broken down. When saliva containing plaque forming bacteria makes contact with leftover food particles containing carbohydrates or sugar, plaque begins to form. Plaque is actually made out of a plasticized form of sugar. Thus, for oral bacteria it not only serves as a protective coating, it’s food storage. Like a gingerbread house.
Why Is It a Problem?
Plaque is partly a problem because it clings to teeth. This concentrates the acid that bacteria produce so that it attacks your teeth in specific places, removing minerals from the enamel and eventually forming cavities.
But plaque has one more tricky role. If you don’t clean it off quickly, it absorbs minerals from your saliva (which are supposed to repair your teeth) and hardens into tartar. This is, essentially, fossilized plaque. (A side effect of this is that tartar preserves vital information about the diets of earlier generations.) Tartar provides a shelter for bacteria, and can increase your risk of cavities and gum disease.
How to Prevent It
There are two steps you can take to curve the amount of plaque that forms, and the first is diet. Limit the food source that cause plaque-forming bacteria to thrive, foods high in sugar or carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates are found in most food sources, however, it’s not reasonable to cut carbs completely. Avoiding candy, white bread, or pastries would be helpful for both your teeth and your diet.
The second step is one we’ve already mentioned: brushing and flossing twice a day. Brushing removes loose food particles before they have the opportunity to turn into plaque. Make sure to brush your teeth for at least two minutes, paying special attention to your gum line by angling the toothbrush at a forty-five degrees. If your dexterity has been impaired by other medical conditions, consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. This will help you clean your teeth thoroughly. Additionally, flossing will ensure you won’t be missing the hard to reach places between your teeth.
Another important step to take control of your oral health is regularly seeing a dentist, and getting cleanings at least twice a year. This is the only way to safely remove tartar. If you don’t remember the last time you had a cleaning, it’s time to schedule an appointment.