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Dangers of plaque build-up and how to stop it

Wed, Feb 29, 2012
Dental Plaque Article - How it develops, what diseases it can cause, and how such diseases can be prevented with these simple measures.
Dangers of plaque build-up and how to stop it

Dental plaque refers to the sticky film that’s yellowish in color and develops on the surfaces of our teeth. It is the most common cause of various types of oral diseases, with tooth decay and periodontal disease being the most common.

How Dental Plaque Forms

Dental plaque forms hours after brushing, and is preceded by pellicle formation. The pellicle is a thin film that develops on the surfaces of the teeth due to the precipitation of the proteins found in our saliva. Some of the proteins contained in the pellicle allow the bacteria normally found in our oral cavity to stick to the film. When that happens, the bacteria starts multiplying, forming colonies which allow other bacterial species to grow in there, including those which cause tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Risk factors for Developing Plaque-related diseases

Plaque-related diseases are primarily brought about by poor oral hygiene practices. When you don’t brush or floss your teeth, plaque deposits tend to get thicker, and so is the amount of bacteria present in there. Aside from poor oral hygiene, there are also other risk factors that lead to the occurrence of plaque-related diseases. Those include impaired immune function, smoking, and the presence of systemic disease like diabetes mellitus.

Smoking alters the way our body responds to infection. When you smoke, your immune defenses are weakened since nicotine, an ingredient found in tobacco products, causes vasoconstriction or narrowing of the arteries. When your arteries narrow, the defense cells contained in the blood are not delivered in locations where they are needed, which in this case, is in the area where there are plaque deposits. Narrowed arteries is also the reason why in smokers, the symptoms of periodontal disease are not apparent. Healing is also compromised, as the affected area does not receive adequate oxygen. As a result, dental plaque continues to build up, allowing destruction to continue on and on. In a study comparing to smokers to non-smokers, it is found out that the former are more likely to develop periodontal disease.

Diabetes mellitus, or the presence of high blood sugar levels, is also related to the worsening of plaque-related diseases. The effect is pretty much similar to the effects of smoking, where there is impaired blood circulation, hence, altered immune function. The only difference between the two is that, in diabetes, the impairment is not due to constriction, but due to the damage to the blood vessels.

Dental Plaque and Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is considered to be the most common oral health problem, and one of the most common diseases in the world. The microorganisms that cause tooth decay— Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli—are some of the bacterial species found in dental plaque. S. mutans and Lactobacilli are acidogenic bacteria, meaning, they have the ability to produce acids from fermentable carbohydrates from food, such as fructose, glucose, and sucrose. These acids can dissolve the hard tissues (enamel and dentin) of our teeth, leading to decay and cavitations. If not treated, tooth decay can lead to pain and infection. In worst cases, an infection that has been left for so long can spread through nearby areas, leading to further complications. That’s why as soon as possible, it is important to remove the decay and have the tooth restored.

Dental Plaque and Periodontal Disease

Accumulation of plaque can also lead to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease pertains to any disease that affects the structures that surrounds our teeth (gingiva/gums, alveolar bone, cementum, and periodontal ligament fibers). There are two types of periodontal disease—gingivitis (non-destructive type) and periodontitis (destructive type). Gingivitis, the early form of periodontal disease, is characterized by the presence of swollen, bleeding, and painful gum tissue. If left untreated, gingivitis can eventually lead to periodontitis, where there already is destruction of one or more tissues that surrounds the teeth.

In periodontitis, a pocket forms between the gums and the root surface of our tooth. If the cause (plaque) is not removed, this pocket grows bigger and bigger, ultimately leading to tooth loss. To prevent further destruction and pocket formation, it is important to remove any plaque deposits on the tooth surface and on the areas underneath the gums.

How to Remove Dental Plaque

Plaque in visible areas and in shallow pockets can be easily removed by brushing and flossing for at least twice a day. The use of mouthwash containing the active ingredient chlorhexidine gluconate may also be helpful, particularly in areas that cannot be reached by toothbrush and dental floss.

For plaque and calcular deposits that are located in very deep pockets, the only option to get them removed is through professional cleaning, otherwise known as scaling and polishing, which is performed by a dentist. Your dentist will make use of specialized hand and mechanical instruments designed particularly for reaching deposits in deep pockets.

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