Dental plaque bio-films receive a lot of bad publicity, and for good reasons. Plaque causes tooth decay, cavities, gum disease and all sorts of oral health complications. However, plaque is often misunderstood, and is in fact an important microbiological bio-film that is part of the oral microbiome.
Healthy plaque biofilms help protect your teeth & gums from pathogenic oral bacteria
Plaque bio-films along your gumline have evolved naturally in humans. And they play a vital role in normal tissue function and the oral microbiome – in a most unexpected way.
In addition to creating a natural barrier between your teeth and gumline, plaque is also a pathway for your immune system response to pathogenic oral bacteria.
New research indicates that neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, can migrate from your gum tissue’s blood capillaries to plaque bio-films that line the crevices between your teeth and gums. Within the bio-film, neutrophils can continue to operate and regulate hundreds of oral bacterial species colonising the gumline.
When neutrophils do their job – along with brushing your teeth, healthy saliva excretion and eating fibrous foods – your mouth’s bacterial population is maintained in a stable condition known as healthy oral homeostasis.
Thickened plaque & tartar destroy the biofilm and lock out neutriphils
When you allow plaque to accumulate and become a permanent day-to-day build-up, your oral homeostasis is thrown off balance.
Plaque can accumulate when food residue – from eating processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates &/or sticky sugars – is caught and remains on your tooth surfaces. This residue permeates and disrupts the biofilm, resulting in more & more sugar-loving pathogenic oral bacteria species – feeding, reproducing & colonising your oral cavity. The resulting increase of acidic bacterial by-products further degrades your plaque bio-film and decays tooth surfaces.
Eventually, a once healthy area of plaque biofilm can degrade into a hardened mass of calculus. In this event, Neutrophils can no longer access the biofilm because there isn’t one. Now, you’ve lost a major protective factor in your oral health, and if your saliva pH is too low, your teeth and gums are at higher risk of damage, decay and infection.
Regular dental clean & scales can reset plaque biofilms
Brushing your teeth after meals, interdental cleaning, mouthwashes, a healthy diet and good hydration are essential ways to maintain your plaque biofilm. But if you already have stubborn plaque or calculus, the only way to remove it is to get a regular clean & scale from your dentist or hygienist.
- Bamashmous, S., Kotsakis, G., Kerns, K., Leroux, B., Zenobia, C., Chen, D., Trivedi, H., McLean, J. and Darveau, R., 2021. Human variation in gingival inflammation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(27), p.e2012578118.
- Kilian, M., Chapple, I., Hannig, M., Marsh, P., Meuric, V., Pedersen, A., Tonetti, M., Wade, W. and Zaura, E., 2016. The oral microbiome – an update for oral healthcare professionals. British Dental Journal, 221(10), pp.657-666.
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