healthy dental bytes

Plaque Happens: Welcome to Plaque 101

As a dental hygienist, I hear many misconceptions about dental health. Alas, while I wanted to jump right into the systemic aspects of health, particularly in regard to systemic inflammation, I must first respond to those of you who are requesting clarity on various dental concepts...starting with PLAQUE.
In my quest to educate patients, clients, friends and passersby about health and the inflammatory process, I realize that I would be remiss if I didn't mention plaque, its effects on the mouth and its link to overall health. So, here it is...the first in a series...Welcome to Plaque 101!
Do you wake up feeling fuzzy? Hanging in by "the skin of your teeth?" What exactly IS that feeling, you may ask?  After all, we all know that teeth aren't supposed to have skin! 
All I can say is this: "plaque happens." It happens in a boat, it happens with a happens here or happens EVERYWHERE...Whether you eat or don't,this invisible, gooey substance begins to form; in fact, it may even begin to form again as early as 5 minutes to four hours after being removed, depending in individual factors! It is important to brush at least twice a day, preferably thrice, and to floss at least once daily and/or to use interdental brushes such as "brushpicks" when you are unable or unwilling to floss.
That said, what IS  plaque, anyway?

Plaque is a soft, sticky, gooey mess containing millions of bacteria,food particles and remnants of carbohydrates. It is a film which continually develops  on the teeth (whether you eat or not) and is removed by brushing and flossing. This includes "false teeth" and prosthetic/orthodontic appliances, incidentally--so there is no incentive to get lazy and lose your teeth--you'll STILL have to brush and it is infinitely less rewarding, to boot. Remember--you don't have to floss all your teeth; just the ones you want to keep!
Plaque forms on the teeth and gums, on prosthetics such as crowns and bridges and/or dentures. If it is not removed properly while it is soft, plaque does one of two things (though sometimes both), causing either decay or periodontal/gum disease. When people ask, "what's eating you?", they never factor in the plaque equation!
Essentially, when the acid in the plaque mixes with carbohydrate/sugar-containing cariogenic foods and is not removed promptly, it can lead to decay (with a little help from Streptococcus Mutans, yet another bacterial family which causes dental disease--the oral cavity is the hostess with the mostess as far as bacteria are concerned). 
When plaque mixes with salivary components, it calcifies, hardening into a rough substance called calculus (previously referred to as "tartar," but I know that you want to be included on the latest lingo in order to impress your dental team next visit)! Calculus in and of itself is not a measure of disease, but it does provide a rough surface which MORE  plaque readily adheres to...thus beginning a vicious cycle, resulting in the perpetual existence of active plaque which hardens, forming calculus, having more plaque adhere, and so get the picture.
 Can we say, "endless cycle"? Once calculus forms, you need to make an appointment with your dental hygienist in order to remove it, restoring the teeth to their smooth surfaces which are more readily cleansible.
What is the big deal about plaque bacteria, anyway? Aren't we designed to endure battles on the bacterial front? Isn't our body made to handle this?
The trouble with plaque bacteria is that it produces endotoxins. I tell the kids that this is "bug poop"--Trust me, this gets 'em brushing! "OK," you may say, "so you're saying i have a POTTY MOUTH?" Hmmmm...well....if the proverbial shoe fits, as they say...But--I digress.
Let me tell you--those bacterial endotoxins--I refer to them as "the bad buggies"--irritate the gums. Do you like to be irritated? Neither do the gums! How do they respond? Since gums don't talk, they let you know by becoming puffy and inflamed. They bleed. Just so you know--healthy gums do NOT bleed. Bleeding is always a result of inflammation. So give your dental hygienist a break during your next visit; unless she is ths spawn of Attila, it probably isn't she who is "making your gums bleed" after all! Bleeding, puffy gums are signs of gingivitis, which, although common, is the first (readily reversible) stage of gum disease. Keep in mind that "common" and "normal" are not the same thing!  
Sometimes it just isn't nice to share, no matter what mom and dad told you. When it comes to the bacteria in our mouth, hungry for our food supply, let's keep it to ourselves, shall we? Pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria are transmissible person to person by the swapping of saliva (moms and dads, please don't "taste" your baby's food with a shared spoon or "clean off" your baby's pacifier by putting it into your mouth)!
At the end of the day, hanging in "by the skin of our teeth" just isn't cool. So--brush, floss, watch who you kiss and see your dental hygienist/dentist regularly to stay on top of those bad buggies. Gum disease is silent; follow the recommendations of your dental team as though your life depended on it...because I said so and because it actually does!

Tune in next time for more in this series, as well as tips on healthy eating & living! Be in good health!

Love, shalom, health & happiness,

Watch for the next in this newsletter series, where we will explore the mouth-body connection...until then, go brush that "skin" off your teeth--you are not an onion, after all!!!

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