The reason gum disease develops in some people and not others remains unclear. It is known that dental plaque contains many different types of bacteria, some of which are associated with developing gum disease. Most people develop some dental plaque, however, only some people develop gum disease. It is thought that infection is more likely to develop if defense against bacteria is reduced in some way, such as an excessive intake of sugar or lack of hygiene.
What Causes Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?
Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, soft drinks or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause breakdown of the bone supporting the tooth.
Tooth location: Tooth decay most frequently occurs in the back teeth. These teeth have lots of grooves and crannies. Although these grooves are great for helping chew food, they can also collect food particles. These back teeth are also harder to keep clean than smoother and more accessible front teeth. As a result, plaque can build up between these back teeth and bacteria can thrive, producing an enamel-destroying acid.
Not brushing: If you do not clean your teeth after eating, plaque can build up, eventually eroding the teeth.
Certain foods and drinks: Some foods and drinks are more likely to cause tooth decay. Foods that cling to your teeth, such as milk, honey, table sugar, soda, ice cream, raisins and other dried fruit, cookies, hard candy, dry cereal and chips are more likely to cause decay than are foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
Dry mouth: Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva. Saliva has an important role in preventing tooth decay. It washes away food and plaque from your teeth. Minerals found in saliva help repair early tooth decay. Saliva also limits bacterial growth and neutralizes damaging acids in your mouth.
Receding gums: When the gums pull away from the teeth, plaque can form on the roots of teeth. Tooth roots are naturally covered with a coating called cementum, but the cementum is quickly lost when the root surface is exposed. The underlying dentin is softer than enamel and decays more easily.
Frequent snacking or sipping: The amount of sugary snacks you eat is less important than when you eat them. If you frequently snack or sip sodas, acid has more time to attack your teeth and wear them down. These beverages remain on their teeth for hours and cause erosion.
Bottled water: Adding fluoride to public water supplies has helped decrease tooth decay by offering protective minerals for tooth enamel. However, today, many people drink bottled or filtered water that doesn’t contain fluoride. On the other hand, some bottled water may contain added fluoride. Be sure to check ingredient labels on your bottled water.
How to Prevent Plaque Formation?
To prevent plaque buildup, dentists recommend to brush at least twice a day with a soft, rounded-tip bristled toothbrush, paying particular attention to the space where the gums and teeth meet. In addition, be sure to eat a balanced diet and limit the number of between-meal snacks. If a snack is necessary, choose nutritious foods such as yogurt, cheese, fruit or raw vegetables. Vegetables, such as celery, help remove food and help saliva neutralize plaque-causing acids.