Laurie DeRosa RDH
First, what is biofilm?
Biofilm is a collection of many types of bacteria surrounded by a slimy substance that can stick to most everything. Biofilms can be found in our bathrooms, on our kitchen countertops, cutting boards and yes, the kitchen sink.
Over 900 types of bacteria can live in our mouths but not all at the same time. There are usually 100-200 species on different surfaces at any given time. The bacteria on our teeth are different than those on the gums, cheek and tongue. Different sides of a single tooth can have different biofilms.
The plaque that forms on our teeth is a type of biofilm. Biofilms play an important role in the health of your mouth. Basically, biofilms are bacterial cells that will team up on and around your teeth and under your gums forming clusters of unhealthy bacteria. If left alone, these bacteria will become toxic. The cells actually feed off each other and if left undisturbed, will multiply and can cause periodontal disease.
So how do I get this plaque biofilm off my teeth?
Daily brushing and flossing is the best way. The surfaces of the teeth and gums need to stay consistently clean in order to keep the bacteria from becoming toxic.
You need to see your dental hygienist regularly so that any plaque that has worked its way down into your gums can be removed. If it is left down under for too long plaque will harden. You may have heard the terms "calculus" or "tartar" from your hygienist or tv commercials. This is what plaque is called after it hardens. Tartar is unhealthy and cannot be removed at home. It will cause inflammation which can destroy the gums. It only takes 24 hours for plaque to harden. Left on the teeth and surrounding gums for too long leads to gum disease.
How can I prevent gum disease?
- Brush your teeth at least two times daily
- Use floss to clean between the teeth
- Use a tongue scraper to clean the top of the tongue
- Rinse the mouth with water after meals if you do not have a toothbrush handy
- Using an antibacterial mouthwash will help kill bacteria
- Sugarless gum contains xylitol which is antibacterial
- Do not smoke as smoking restricts blood flow and puts you at higher risk for gum disease
- If you wear a denture it should be soaked in a cleaner and then left out of the mouth overnight (but not soaking in water overnight as this promotes bacterial growth)
- Lastly, make good, healthy food choices. Too much sugar in your diet promotes an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria which can lead to a unhealthy mouth
Laurie DeRosa is a Registered Dental Hygienist at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, an integrative medicine and dental center serving the Washington DC metro area. Using the latest in dental technology, her goal is to help the dental patient understand the important connection between their oral health and their overall health.