Don’t look now, but you have a mouthful of bacteria — 600 species of bacteria to be exact! Yes, it sounds awful, especially for those sensitive to the idea of germs, but don’t panic. Most of the bacteria are harmless and some are even helpful.
One of the more destructive bacterial species — streptococcus mutans in particular — is responsible for tooth decay. The decay-causing bacteria mix with saliva to form a sticky, naturally occurring film, called plaque. Bacteria form acids, which become part of the plaque layer. If that plaque isn’t removed, the acid dissolves the tooth’s enamel and can lead to cavities. The plaque that forms on easily accessible surfaces can be dislodged with natural chewing and tongue movements. Hard-to-reach places, such as in between your teeth, are also likely spots for plaque build-up.
When it comes to tooth loss, the primary culprits are decay and periodontal disease. Tooth decay, the gradual breakdown of the tooth’s enamel and interior tissue, can cause cavities and eventually the death of the tooth. Periodontal disease attacks gum tissue, ligaments and bone that support the teeth. Both of these conditions happen when the growth of bacteria is not controlled.
Most of us can keep bacteria in check with simple home care: Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss. Replace your toothbrush about once every three months or immediately after an illness.
If you’re doing these preventive tasks but can’t keep the bacteria at bay, you may have less resistance to oral bacteria than the average person. If that’s the case, a dentist can help you determine the best treatment options.