The general concept of our oral bacteria is that of free-floating organisms releasing toxins and damaging our teeth and gums. In reality, these bacteria create stable protective organic layers known as biofilms. A biofilm is created when bacteria first adhere to a surface and then generate a polysaccharide complex that also stores calcium, magnesium, iron, and any other minerals available.
Within a biofilm, these bacteria are able to resist the immune response. Since it requires less oxygen and fewer nutrients at the core, the biofilm is more resistant to antibodies from our immune system, but antibiotics as well.
When this biofilm is allowed to grow on the teeth and gums, it becomes visible as a white or yellowish substance that we call plaque. At that point, the bacteria have already begun their harmful activities. These activities include the release of acids that eat away at your teeth’s protective enamel layer, resulting in cavities.
Plaque needs to be removed by the daily routine of brushing and flossing, because if neglected, it then combines with the minerals in saliva to form a hard deposit called tartar.
As with plaque, tartar can form both above and below your gum line. Tartar allows plaque bacteria to thrive, enabling them to multiply quickly leading to inflammation of your gums (gingivitis), and this can advance to the more serious gum infection, periodontitis.
Unlike plaque, brushing or flossing alone will not remove tartar. To eliminate it, you need to visit your dentist, who will remove it by scaling and polishing. Scaling refers to the scraping or picking off tartar from the teeth, while polishing helps smooth and shine the teeth afterwards.
Thus, removing plaque from your teeth and gum line first is critical to maintaining good oral health. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has confirmed that more than 80% of all human bacterial infections are associated with biofilms, and this includes plaque.
How Can You Prevent the Harmful Effects of Plaque and Tartar?
There are four main ways that you can prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar on your teeth - daily brushing and flossing, using mouthwash, and regular dental visits.
Establish a routine of brushing 2-3 times per day, for at least 2 minutes at a time, with a soft-bristle toothbrush. Give special attention to where your teeth and gums interface. Most people do not brush their teeth for that long, allowing some plaque to remain. If you follow this routine, you will help ensure that you are brushing your teeth long enough to get rid of plaque.
Use short back-and-forth strokes or circular motions to clean the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces of all your teeth. Do not forget to brush around your gum line and back teeth. These places are often skipped.
All plaque cannot be removed by brushing alone since it is difficult to reach all of the necessary areas with a toothbrush. To remove biofilm from these hard-to-reach areas, dentists recommend flossing between your teeth once per day to remove food particles and plaque that cannot be cleaned by a toothbrush
The use of anti-bacterial mouthwash helps by providing additional cleansing of your mouth and teeth and preventing the immediate regrowth of the plaque biofilm.
Regular Dental Visits for Professional Cleanings
Professional dental cleanings are required for complete plaque removal. Regular brushing and flossing alone does not guarantee the complete removal of plaque.
Visit your dentist at least one every six months for a professional cleaning, and more frequently if needed to maintain good oral health.
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