Since childhood, most of us are taught that brushing and flossing our teeth helps keep our mouths healthy and reduces our risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. Some people would readily and confidently agree that tooth brushing’s main beneficial purpose is the removal of plaque.
However, many people would be hard-pressed to explain what plaque is, or why it needs to be removed to retain your good oral health. In the firm belief that knowledge is power, we explain plaque formation and the dangers it poses to your dental health if not controlled properly.
Plaque = Tooth Decay
Common wisdom often ascribes tooth decay and cavity formation to the excessive consumption of sugar. This actually is not completely incorrect, but sugar itself does not erode your teeth. The true culprit lies within the sticky substance that clings to your teeth, called dental plaque. The biofilm is a collection of various types of oral bacteria (there are over 600 distinctly identifiable strains of bacteria in your mouth at any given time).
Among these microbes is one in particular, known as Streptococcus mutans, which converts the sugar in your diet into lactic acid, which saps your tooth’s minerals and weakens the tooth enamel to prepare the path for tooth decay. During the acid attack, small holes (cavities) appear in the enamel, which allow bacteria through to the interior tooth tissues. If left unchecked, this infection can spread to the very center of your tooth (pulp), and may require an invasive root canal treatment or total extraction.
Plaque = Gum Disease
When plaque accumulates at your gum line, the bacteria can irritate your gums and cause them to separate from your gums. The microbe Porphyromonas gingivalis, which also contributes to plaque formation, is suspected of being the number one cause behind gum disease’s destructive power.
P. gingivalis is known to fool your immune system’s inflammatory response to infection, causing the gum inflammation that destroys your gum tissue and supporting jawbone structure. Because of the reaction it generates, P. gingivalis has also been linked to an increased risk of developing certain chronic inflammatory diseases, including heart disease and dementia.