Why does plaque build-up on your teeth when you go too long without brushing? Where does it come from?
More importantly, why is it the root cause of virtually all dental problems?
The Origins of Plaque
Our mouths are full of bacteria. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our stomachs are full of bacteria as well, and without it, we wouldn’t be able to survive.
However, some bacteria in our mouth, when combined with carbohydrates from the food that we eat, form a caustic, acidic substance. Over time, this substance starts to accumulate more bits of food, forming a fuzzy, sticky paste.
This is plaque.
Plaque differs from tartar in that the latter is plaque that has hardened and encrusted along the gumline and in between the teeth.
Idaho Falls dentists are used to seeing first hand the damage that can be caused by plaque. Everything from minor halitosis (bad breath) to major dental decay and gum disease can result from poor dental hygiene.
So, why is plaque such a dangerous thing to have living in our mouths?
How Plaque Causes Dental Problems
Plaque is acidic and full of bacteria. If left to fester on the teeth and gums, it begins to cause damage.
- Plaque begins eating away at the enamel, the protective outer layer of the tooth composed mainly of minerals. Your Idaho Falls dentist can help at this stage with a thorough dental cleaning.
- Once plaque works past the enamel, it begins eating away at the dentin – the hard, bony part of the tooth. Once a hole is worn down here, a cavity forms. This is the part where things start to get painful. At this stage, a dental filling from your Idaho Falls dentist is your best option.
- If left to fester, the cavity will get worse and the plaque will begin to infect the tooth pulp. As the name implies, this is the soft, fleshy interior part of the tooth that contains blood vessels and the tooth nerve. It can probably go without saying that at this point, pain levels are going to increase dramatically as the pulp becomes inflamed. At this stage, a root canal from your Idaho Falls dentist is the most likely option.
- Eventually, an inflamed pocket of pus called an abscess will form near the tooth root, usually at the gumline. Your dentist can drain the abscess and perform a root canal.
The technical name for this is “periodontal disease”. You may have also heard it referred to as “gingivitis” or “periodontitis” – these terms are both correct and incorrect depending on the circumstance.
Let’s clear things up:
- Periodontal Disease: Synonymous with “gum disease”, this is a painful inflammation of the gums due to plaque build-up.
- Gingivitis: This is the first stage of gum disease which is relatively mild. Pain levels tend to be low, and symptoms include gum discoloration (usually bright red or purple) and excessive bleeding when brushing the teeth.
- Periodontitis: This is the advanced stage of gum disease. Periodontitis causes intense pain when brushing or eating. The gums also begin to recede from the teeth, causing them to become loose and shift positions. Eventually, tooth loss is all but inevitable.
Many Idaho Falls dentists can provide treatment for gingivitis, which is reversible. However, once gum disease has advanced into periodontitis, the problem is not reversible, although it is still treatable.
Plaque Can Cause More Than Just Dental Problems
Growing research is revealing that dental problems can go beyond the mouth and negatively affect other, seemingly unrelated parts of the body.
Periodontal Disease & Its Link to Heart Disease
There are a number of factors that contribute to heart disease, and among these are plaque, bacteria, and inflammation.
Consider that, due to the excessive bleeding of the gums caused by periodontal disease, that the bacteria-ridden plaque has a direct route from the mouth to the bloodstream. From there, it can enter the arteries of the heart.
Those with periodontal disease have roughly two to three times higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular events.
One of the biggest links here is inflammation. “Periodontal disease increases the body’s burden of inflammation,” says periodontist Dr. Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute.
Another study showed that those who had successful periodontal disease treatments ended up spending 10 to 40 percent less on cardiovascular care costs than people who did not get treatment.
The American Heart Association has officially acknowledged a link between periodontal disease and heart disease as a result of plaque and inflammation.
Stroke & Its Link With Tooth Decay
The main bacteria involved in plaque is Streptococcus mutans. Those who have suffered from hemorrhagic stroke have been found to contain this bacteria in their saliva in higher-than-average amounts.
Streptococcus mutans is also associated with cerebral microbleeds (CMBs), which can cause dementia.
As with periodontal disease, dental decay gives plaque a direct route to the bloodstream, where it can enter not only the arteries of the heart but also the blood vessels in the brain.
Idaho Falls Dentists Like Dr. Baker Are Employing More Holistic Means of Fighting Plaque
With the overall mouth-body connection in mind, Idaho Falls dentists like Dr. Baker employs a healthier, more natural approach to dentistry.