A brief guide to what’s going on with your teeth when you’re not looking.
This is your mouth. It’s a beautiful peaceful place that’s home to many fascinating things.
For example, as you are reading this, there are hundreds of different types of bacteria living and breeding. This is your oral microbiome.
These bacteria are nothing to be afraid of, really. Your body’s immune system and the antimicrobial agents in our saliva help keep the population of bacteria within the microbiome at a healthy balance.
Let’s reward our body with a healthy snack.
When food enters our mouth, tiny traces of sugars and nutrients remain on our teeth. Coupled with some saliva and warmth, this allows the bacteria to start breeding within minutes.
Within hours, the bacteria form a thin protective layer of natural slime that keeps the bacteria safe. This layer is called biofilm.
The longer it is left untouched, the stronger the biofilm becomes.
Slime itself is nothing to be afraid of; slime is part of all kinds of bodily liquids. But the bacteria feel good when inside this slime, so they live and breed more.
At later stages, this biofilm is called dental plaque.
When bacteria breed and their biofilm grows stronger, it creates an acid environment that demineralises your teeth.
Do you want to know what happens next?
When bacteria have enough protection, they breed and create a lot of acid that over time degrades your teeth. The bacteria dig into the enamel and make a hole, which is tooth decay – this is also known as dental caries or cavities.
Try touching the front of your teeth with your tongue right now. Do you feel that they are a little rough?
That rough part – that’s bacteria building colonies in your mouth. If given enough time, they will eventually dig into your teeth.
How about your back teeth? Move your tongue to your molars. You will feel the roughness — that’s bacteria building colonies in your mouth. If given enough time, they will eventually dig into your teeth.
There are many aids that people use to fight dental plaque. Some are more effective, others are less effective. Care to try some?
Mouthwash is not effective against dental plaque, because it cannot penetrate the biofilm well enough to disrupt its structure. What’s more, the antiseptic properties of a mouthwash can disrupt your natural microbiome. One should only use mouthwash when prescribed by a dentist.
Gum does nothing to the biofilm. The feeling of freshness after you chew gum merely masks the fact that your teeth are still covered in biofilm and more dental plaque will follow.
Brushing is essential to disrupting the structure of the biofilm. But a quick brush will only remove the biofilm from the parts of your teeth that are easiest to access. If you don’t reach your molars or don’t cover the back of your teeth, the plaque will continue to accumulate.
A thorough brushing is the best strategy for removing the biofilm and fighting dental plaque. Remember to brush all your teeth – front and back, including your back molars. Pay particular attention to plaque-prone sulcus, which is the area between your teeth and gums.
The best tool for thorough brushing is a soft brush with a high bristle count, like the one in this picture. A brush with a low bristle count won’t cut it.
Unfortunately, even thorough brushing won’t let you reach your interdental spaces – and that’s where dental plaque accumulates easily. Care to try and remove it?
Electric toothbrushes are good aids when you want to improve your thorough brushing technique. But they still won’t reach the interdental space. Let’s try something else.
Sadly, flossing has proven to be ineffective against dental plaque, especially between the molars. It just doesn’t reach the areas where the plaque lives.
Interdental brushes are specifically designed to reach into the interdental space and clean out the dental plaque with one in-and-out motion. Then rinse and store in a dry place for future use.
Make sure you consult your dentist or hygienist so as to get the interdentals of the right size. They will properly measure your interdental spaces and give you an exact formula: what size brushes to get, and how to use them.
Remember to brush twice a day, and to disrupt the biofilm on all your teeth. Don’t let the bacteria accumulate on your teeth for too long.
Also remember your regular dental check-ups. Your dentist knows where to look and how to prevent dental diseases.
Spread the word and don’t let the bacteria build!