What is dental plaque?
Dental plaque is a soft deposit that accumulates on the teeth. The buildup of dental plaque on teeth is a normal physiologic process, occurring in both healthy mouths, and mouths with cavities or gum disease. Plaque is natural and contributes to disease resistance by stimulating our immune defense system. However, like a two edged sword, plaque on teeth can also favor the development of dental diseases.
What are the causes of dental plaque and how does it form?
Dental plaque starts when bacteria that are usually present in the mouth attach to teeth and begin multiplying. Plaque can form on teeth both above the gum line, where it is called supragingival plaque, or below the gum line on the roots of teeth, where it is named subgingival plaque. The bacteria adhere to a clear sticky substance from saliva, called glycoprotein, which binds almost immediately to the surface of a freshly cleaned tooth. The combination of bacteria and glycoprotein on the tooth surface is called a pellicle or biofilm.
The creation of pellicle is the first step in plaque formation. At this stage the microorganisms present in dental plaque are generally harmless, and the plaque biofilm is colorless and almost invisible. Many of the bacteria function to the benefit of the person on whose teeth they are living, by inhibiting the growth of potential disease related germs.
By the time twenty four hours have passed, different types of microorganisms are living in the pellicle as the plaque thickens and builds up to measurable levels. Now it appears as a soft, gooey substance that sticks to the teeth a bit like jam sticks to a spoon. It is in fact, made up of colonies of germs or microorganisms, such as bacteria, protozoa, mycoplasma, yeasts and viruses clumped together in a gel-like organic material, composed of bacterial byproducts, including sugar, white blood cells, food debris and body tissue.
After approximately one week of plaque accumulation, the microscopic appearance of dental plaque reveals bacterial cells of many different shapes and patterns, as well as the other microorganisms already mentioned. It has been estimated that as many as 400 distinct species of bacteria may be found in plaque. The most common forms are round shaped germs, or cocci, which can be found singly, in clumps, or grouped end to end in chain like fashion; bacteria that have a straight or rod shape called bacilli; fusiform microbes which are tapered at both ends like a spindle; thread like microorganisms called filaments; and spirochetes, which are thin organisms with a spiral appearance. Spirochetes are always identified with disease.
After it is formed, what happens to plaque?
If left alone long enough, plaque begins to mineralize and harden into calculus or tartar because the plaque absorbs calcium, phosphorus and other minerals from saliva. This can happen to plaque anywhere on the teeth, but it is most noticeable in plaque that is near salivary gland ducts. That is why people usually observe tarter behind the front teeth. These minerals form crystals and harden the plaque structure. New plaque forms on top of existing calculus and this new layer can also become calcified, resulting in an ever increasing surface area on which plaque can accumulate.
However, once plaque forms, and as long as it is not physically disturbed, its composition is characterized by a degree of relative stability or harmony among all the various germs found in the plaque. This stability is called homeostasis. Homeostasis of germs in the plaque on teeth occurs in both healthy mouths and in mouths with dental diseases, such as cavities or gum disease.
Homeostasis is due to a balance of the numerous biological interactions of all the germs, which tend to be in very close physical contact with each other. The germs are in constant competition with each other for places in the plaque where they can grow best. If homeostasis is disrupted, the concentration and kinds of organisms in the plaque keeps changing until homeostasis is re-established. Homeostasis can be disturbed by a number of different factors, such as hardening of plaque into tarter, reduced quantity of saliva in the mouth from medications, ordinary brushing and flossing, or the composition of the diet. Changing the number and kinds of germs in the plaque can alter the state of health or disease in the mouth.
What causes plaque to have different kinds of germs in it?
Distinctly different kinds of germs dominate the plaque, depending on whether the mouth is healthy, or disease is present. In a healthy mouth, where the layer of plaque on the teeth is typically thin, bacteria that need oxygen grow and thrive. They are called aerobic organisms. These are the same bacteria and other organisms that are normally found throughout the mouth.
Some bacteria are able to grow with or without oxygen, although they prefer oxygen because it beneficial to their metabolism and ability to survive. They are called facultative organisms, and they are more likely to be seen where there is disease. For example, people who regularly consume a diet with a high sugar content have large numbers of bacteria in their plaque that are associated with tooth decay or cavities. The primary microbe associated with cavities is a round shaped facultative germ called Streptococcus mutans. These bacteria produces tooth dissolving acid when given an abundant supply of sugar to feed on. Drinking soda pop everyday is a good way to keep Streptococcus mutans well fed. Sometimes these germs are transmitted from person to person, especially if they are family members living together.
When a thick layer of dental plaque forms, we commonly find the kinds of microbes that can grow only when there is little or no oxygen present. They are called anaerobic microorganisms. Whenever plaque conditions are favorable for anaerobic organisms to grow and flourish, disease is usually present. For instance, people with gum disease usually have several different types of anaerobic germs in their plaque, and particularly, one called Porphyromonas gingivalis. Besides being harmful, unhealthy bacteria may generate unpleasant mouth odors and aesthetically unattractive stains on the teeth.
Why do you want to control or prevent dental plaque?
As mentioned at the beginning of this page, the formation of dental plaque on your teeth is part of normal human physiology. Therefore, it is not possible to prevent saliva and bacteria in the mouth from depositing on your teeth and contributing to the buildup of plaque. So you really can’t prevent dental plaque from forming on your teeth. Besides, you wouldn’t want to, because in a healthy mouth, some dental plaque is beneficial. However, if you want your teeth and gums to remain healthy or to return to a state of health, the number and types of bacteria that grow in the plaque must be controlled.
How do you control dental plaque?
Dentists are taught in dental school that the infectious diseases associated with dental plaque, primarily gum disease, or tooth decay or cavities, are “caused” by plaque germs on the teeth. In other words, the germs and the plaque are responsible for creating cavities or making gums sick. Unfortunately, blaming gum disease and cavities on germs and plaque leads to some faulty solutions for these illnesses. That’s because the focus is on an external cause, meaning germs and plaque, rather than on the real reason. That’s why dentists and hygienists, in a well meaning attempt to help you reduce cavities and prevent gum disease, always tell you to have your teeth checked twice a year and to clean the plaque off your teeth by brushing and flossing every day. Does this sound familiar? Has it helped you or anyone you know stop cavities or gum disease? If you want to understand how to really keep your teeth and gums healthy, please keep on reading.
The holistic or biological way to control dental plaque
Do the germs really cause gum disease, or is it the person whose lifestyle allows his or her mouth to harbor the germs? Do the acid creating bacteria in the plaque cause cavities, or is it the person whose lifestyle includes all sorts of foods loaded with sugar?
The holistic or biological model asserts that we are entirely responsible for the germs in the plaque on our teeth, and most importantly, we have complete control over the nature of our plaque. The types of germs in our plaque is a direct reflection of what we put in our body, what we eat and drink, and the quality of these foods, because our entire body, including our immune system, which protects us from germs, is directly made from these foods. In effect, the health and strength of our immune system and our entire body, is directly determined by the foods we consume. Whether or not we get plaque germs that induce gum disease or cavities is entirely an internal process we can control.
How do you really control dental plaque?
A safe, holistic way you can do this is by following a healthy life style. This means consuming the right kinds of foods and drinks, including fruits and vegetables and other foods that are organic, whole grain, unprocessed or raw, and contain no added sugars, chemicals or synthetic ingredients of any kind. You must also exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and environmental toxins. If you are able to do this, you will bring about two critically important changes that will reduce the germs in your dental plaque and, at the same time, make you healthier. First, you will create an internal, slightly alkaline, health promoting environment in your entire body, including your mouth, and second, you will make your immune system very strong – so strong that no disease promoting organism can survive in the plaque on your teeth for long. Then you are much less likely to get cavities or tooth decay because Streptococcus mutans bacteria cannot live very well in this environment. Neither would any of the kinds of germ associated with gum disease. In truth, you wouldn’t need dentists under these ideal circumstances. Although I am not suggesting or recommending it, even brushing and flossing wouldn’t be needed. Of course, then your breath wouldn’t smell very nice.
Why are supplements also needed?
Realistically, most people will rarely meet all of the conditions described above for creating excellent dental health. So, what is the best practical solution for controlling the germs in your plaque? The answer is simple. First, to still consume the right kinds of foods and drinks when you can, to still exercise and avoid toxins as much as possible, to brush and floss your teeth so you remove plaque, which means your breath remains sweet, and second, to compensate for whatever elements of a healthy lifestyle you are lacking, by adding organic and all natural whole food supplements to your diet.
Learn more about these remarkable health promoting supplements.
How can adding organic and all natural whole food supplements to your diet make your teeth healthier? The answer is fairly simple.
When you take supplements derived from all natural and organic whole foods, your body receives the same nutritional nourishment it would get from eating all natural and organic whole foods. You develop the same increased ability to ward off disease. In the case of dental plaque, you raise your level of resistance to the germs that grow in dental plaque. Which really means you may not get as many cavities as before, or better yet, you may not get any new cavities!