Dental Plaque- Don’t Let it Go

A team from the University of Washington recently identified and classified the different ways people respond to the buildup of dental plaque.

The study is the first of its kind to look at how individuals respond to the bacteria-filled, sticky biofilm that accumulates on teeth.

The team’s work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows how important it is for people who are more prone to those conditions that contribute to tooth loss and other oral health issues to get treatment.

If not treated, dental plaque buildup can cause gingivitis, the first stage of periodontitis. In this stage, gums can become:

  • Inflamed
  • Red
  • Painful
  • Slightly swollen

If gingivitis is left untreated, it can turn into periodontitis, a severe infection of the gum tissue that can damage the gums and the tissues below. When the gums and tissues that support the teeth become damaged, you can lose your teeth.

In addition to tooth loss, periodontal disease can trigger severe health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and even bowel diseases.

When dental plaque develops on the teeth, it causes an inflammatory response from the body to help kill off the bacteria in the plaque.

Earlier studies found that the inflammatory responses to this bacterial buildup vary from person to person. This earlier research found two known major oral inflammation types: a high or clinical solid response and an inadequate clinical response. However, during their study, the team found a third phenotype, which they labeled as a ‘slow’ or delayed solid inflammatory response.

The researchers found for the first time that individuals with a slow clinical response also had a low inflammatory response to a range of inflammation signals. This means that a distinct group of people have a slower development of dental plaque and a different reaction to this dental plaque than the rest of the population.

Understanding how different people react to plaque and inflammation may help identify individuals with a greater risk of developing periodontitis.

It may also give researchers more insight into how bacterial-based inflammatory conditions develop in some people or what makes them at risk for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

During the study, the researchers also found a newly identified inflammatory immune response designed to preserve the tissue and bone that support the teeth and often come under attack by dental plaque. This response exists with all three identified immune responses (high, low and slow) and relies on white blood cells to kill off the bacterial population found in dental plaque and keep the mouth’s bacteria balanced.

This study further supports why we, as dentists, remind patients to brush and floss consistently.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can affect the bone surrounding and supporting your teeth if left untreated. Gum disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth that live in dental plaque. This sticky film can build up and cover your teeth and gums if you do not consistently brush and floss.

There are three stages of gum disease:

Gingivitis. As we mentioned above, gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease. If you do not brush or floss regularly to remove dental plaque, the bacteria in the plaque can put off toxins and further irritate the gum tissue. As a result, your gums may be red, sore, swollen and even bleed during this stage when you brush or floss. Gingivitis is reversible, as your bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place are not affected or damaged.

Periodontitis. During this phase of periodontal disease, the bone, ligaments and tissue that hold your teeth in place are seriously damaged. As a result, your gums may begin to form ‘pockets’ or gaps along the gumline at the root of your teeth, which can trap food and dental plaque. These pockets can lead to bad breath and tooth decay. To prevent further damage, you may need dental interventions like a deep-cleaning root planing and scaling procedure to help remove the plaque from below the gumline. You may need additional treatments to restore your gum health.

Advanced Periodontitis. Advanced periodontitis is the most severe form of gum disease. During this phase, the ligaments beneath your teeth are destroyed, which can make your teeth move, feel loose or even fall out. You can also experience bone loss, which has its share of complications as well.

How Do I Know if I Have Gum Disease?

While gum disease is most common among adults, it can happen at any age.

If gum disease is detected early (gingivitis), it can be significantly improved or reversed.

See us immediately if you notice that you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Gums that are red, swollen or puffy
  • Gums that are sore or tender
  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Your teeth look longer because you have gum recession
  • Gum pockets or gaps where your gums have pulled away from your teeth
  • Visible infection with pus coming from between your teeth and gums
  • Bite changes
  • Chronic bad breath or a bitter taste in your mouth

How Can I Prevent Gum Disease?

You can lower your risk of gum disease by practicing good oral hygiene, such as brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. These steps reduce your risk factors for periodontal disease and help prevent your condition from reaching advanced stages.

Call us today to talk about your oral health and how we can help.