Did you know that there exists a thriving community of live microbes in your mouth right now?
Yes, you read it right!
Scientists call this community a ‘biofilm,’ but you probably know it as dental plaque. While it may not appear as the typical microscope pictures of bacteria that we find in science textbooks, the plaque layer on your teeth is, in fact, bacteria rapidly growing and multiplying in your mouth.
It is surrounded by a glue-like polymer layer, which forms the white coating that we feel. This sticky layer allows the microbes to stay attached to your teeth and further expand their colonies. Your mouth becomes a nutrient-rich ecosystem, helping it grow and proliferate.
The bad news is that these bacterial colonies can have disastrous effects on your dental hygiene and overall body health.
Let’s find out what precisely dental plaque is and why you should care about it.
What is Dental Plaque?
Similar to the rest of our body, our mouth is also home to large numbers of bacteria. By large, we mean around several thousands of different microbial species that come together to make up the oral microbiota. While it may sound like a cause of concern, it isn’t.
The oral microbiota is generally harmless and instead works to maintain a healthy dental ecosystem and fights off other germs that could harm your teeth.
These thousands of bacterial species compete for food and space and eventually settle on the teeth enamel. The enamel has a natural saliva layer over it, which offers microbes the perfect breeding grounds to develop on. They start feeding on the fermentable sugars found in food particles stuck around your teeth.
Oral bacteria thrive on food rich in carbohydrates like milk, cakes, raisins, soft drinks, etc. So, when this food is frequently left on your teeth, it causes excessive microbial feeding and results in waste production that the bacterium excretes.
The waste materials are usually acidic and wear away at your tooth enamel. Over time, these bacterial colonies, the acid they produce, food debris, and saliva come together to form dental plaque.
Dental plaque is a soft, yellow biofilm formed on your teeth’ surface, especially around the gum line or between two teeth.
How is it Different from Tartar?
If dental plaque isn’t regularly removed and cleared out, it builds up in layers over your teeth. Moreover, the plaque accumulates various minerals from your saliva, causing it to harden and form an off-white to a yellow substance. This is known as tartar.
When plaque combines with other minerals to form tartar, the process is known as calcification. The darker and harder deposit, tartar, can only be removed by dental health experts and requires specific apparatus. You may have also heard your dentist call is calculus.
Tartar is a worse form of dental plaque and poses a higher threat to your dental hygiene. It is an external deposit that makes it easier for new bacterial colonies and food to attack your tooth’s surface. This promotes the plaque formation cycle, causing more plaque accumulation, particularly on your front gum line or the back of your teeth.
The overall effect of tartar is increased risk to your dental health, resulting in other health challenges.
How Can It Affect My Oral Health?
Since plaque is essentially microbial buildup, it can affect your oral health in many different ways, with some being more serious and a more significant cause for concern. Some of the most common symptoms of plaque or tartar are bad breath and yellowing teeth.
The accumulation of food debris and acid excretion from the bacteria causes bad breath. On the other hand, the acid production also erodes your natural tooth enamel, causing stains and yellowing to appear – which can even lead to severe tooth decay!
It’s all the things you try your best to avoid, particularly when heading off to an important conference or meeting someone special for the first time.
The more severe effects of plaque include demineralization of the teeth and tooth decay. Like Streptococcus mutants, certain oral bacteria utilize the sugars in your mouth and produce acid, which directly attacks your enamel. It tears down the enamel structure, thus causing demineralization as the calcium and phosphate contents of your teeth are broken down. It causes white spots to appear under the surface of the tooth. This is the first step leading to severe tooth decay.
If left untreated, the decay keeps progressing towards the softer and more delicate layers of the tooth. When it reaches the dentin, your enamel will weaken to the point of collapse and start forming cavities. Additionally, this exposure to the sensitive dentin layer will cause severe toothache, mainly when eating and drinking hot or cold things.
Although mild demineralization is reversible, tooth decay and cavities are not. They will require the immediate attention of a qualified dentist; otherwise, the damage can reach the pulp and root of your teeth. It may even require tooth extraction!
Below, we have compiled a list of all the dental health issues that could arise due to plaque build-up and what you can do to avoid them.
1. Tooth Decay
As we mentioned above, dental plaque produces acids that can eventually lead to cavities. To prevent any further damage, the dentist will probably fix it with a filling to stabilize your teeth.
To protect your teeth from decay, use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth twice a day. Also, consult your primary healthcare specialist and see if any of your underlying illnesses could contribute to tooth decay development.
People with dry mouth are at increased risk. If you’re on any specific medication, you might need extra fluoride to keep enamel erosion at bay. Your dental hygienist will prescribe a special fluoride treatment, gel, or mouthwash to use at home.
2. Gum Disease
If the plaque builds up along or underneath your gum line, it causes a severe risk of gum disease. The plaque will cause an infection that reaches deep inside your gums and to the bone, holding your teeth in place.
Have you recently noticed your gums appearing redder and feeling tender? Do you often see bleeding in between your teeth while brushing? Those are early signs of gum disease!
Don’t worry, though! If detected early on, it can be treated quite easily.
A mild form of gum disease is also called gingivitis and can be undone through regular brushing and flossing.
However, if your gingivitis proceeds into periodontitis, you would have a serious problem at hand. This severe form of gum disease will require you to make a much-dreaded dentist appointment. Periodontitis causes inflamed gums that pull away from your tooth and become too infected.
The infection spreads below your gum line, gets detected by your immune system, and immediately triggers a response with increased white blood cells and antibodies’ production. These cells, paired with the toxins released by the oral bacteria, work together to break down your skeletal and connective tissues holding the teeth together.
Furthermore, suppose the bacterium is left to translocate to other areas of the mouth. In that case, it will infect the healthy teeth too. So, if your gums are bleeding, sore and causing pain every time you chew, you need to get professional help immediately. Otherwise, it can lead to tooth loss or require extraction of a majority of your teeth.
Preventing Gum Disease
- Brush your teeth twice daily, especially with fluoride-rich toothpaste.
- Floss after every meal.
- Make routine visits to the dentist and discuss any underlying medical conditions or medications you are on.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat well-balanced meals.
3. Oral Cancer
While more common over the age of 40, oral cancer can occur for anybody and at any part of your oral cavity. The worst part is that it generally doesn’t cause pain in the first few stages, thus reducing early detection chances when treatment is most effective.
If the cancer is left to spread, it can affect all areas of your mouth and require complete extraction of your natural teeth. Therefore, regular dentist visits to check for oral cancer are a must.
You can also ensure a lowered risk of developing oral cancer by:
- Staying away from all tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
- Moderating your alcohol consumption.
- Using lip balm with SPF.
- Avoiding electronic cigarettes. (The vapor is known to contain cancer-causing particles.)
Negatives Effects on Your Overall Health
We have already seen the disastrous effects that dental plaque can have on your oral health. However, it doesn’t end there!
Dental plaque also has severe implications for your overall health. Scientists have determined a close relationship between oral hygiene and its consequences on your overall health. Moreover, new evidence is regularly emerging that further proves just how much of a risk it can be to leave dental plaque untreated.
Are you thinking of how absurd it is that your oral health can affect the rest of your body as well?
Well, think of it this way. Healthy gums and enamel are the protectors of your teeth, forming a physical barrier to keep bacteria away from your teeth and the rest of your body. When weakened, it gives oral bacteria an easy entry point to your bloodstream and is transported to the rest of the body.
The bacteria then aggravates any previously occurring health conditions you may have and can cause severe complications for people with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis. If it’s allowed to swim around your bloodstream for too long, it can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate and even lead to a stroke.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
All the diseases and adverse effects of dental plaque can sound daunting. However, if taken care of from an early age, you can spend your life never having to worry about any of them!
By developing acceptable dental health practices, you can easily keep your gums and teeth healthy. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your teeth at least twice a day, and be sure to change your brush every 3-4 months.
Moreover, this study shows how using toothpaste with baking soda, or even sprinkling some yourself before brushing, can help eliminate any plaque that may be building up over your teeth.
Remember that the bacteria can spread quickly in the nooks between your teeth that your brush can’t reach. You need to pay special attention to those areas and use dental floss or interdental brush to clean any food debris.
Finally, rinse your mouth with a gentle, antibacterial mouthwash to clear out any pathogenic bacteria residing in any other part of your mouth or over your tongue.
Should You Scrape Off the Plaque?
Scraping away the plaque, be it with your fingernails or even an at-home dental scraper kit, can do more harm than good. Your dentist is specially trained to remove any plaque or tartar and has the right equipment to ensure your gums aren’t damaged in the process.
Also, since the tools are sharp, they can even get to your roots and weaken them, causing increased bleeding and infection risk.
At-home plaque scrapers have a horrible track record of causing gum recession and tooth damage. They can even cause tartar to be pushed under the gum line. Imagine the terrible effects that would have!
While it may be quite scary to think of all the possible diseases and risks that dental plaque invites, it is relatively easy to manage it at home. Just be diligent with your dental hygiene, brush, and floss regularly, and keep up your dentist’s visits to ensure optimal oral health!
If you or someone you know are experiencing problems with their teeth or gums, contact us right away before the situation gets worse. Prevention only works if you do, so if you notice something unusual, give us a call before things get out of hand.