What’s the greatest threat to your smile? If you’re a hockey player, it’s probably traumatic impact. If you smoke or chew tobacco, then it might be the chemicals your mouth is exposed to through the habit. In most cases, however, the greatest threat to your dental health is something you can’t always see; an ever-growing mass of oral bacteria that feed on the nutrients in your meals and beverages. Experts have identified over 600 different types of bacteria that dwell in a healthy mouth, with more that have yet to be classified. What they’ve observed about your mouth germs’ behavior may make you reconsider what you believe to be your smile’s most formidable foe.
Where to Find Oral Bacteria
Bacteria are microscopic organisms that you can’t see with your naked eye, but the ones that live in your mouth form a sticky biofilm known as dental plaque when enough of them accumulate. Plaque can be found all over your teeth’s surfaces, including between them and along your gum line. Some types of bacteria prefer to linger on the surface of your tongue, or just underneath it. If fact, the mouth and its bacteria have been likened to a veritable ecosystem, since microbes tend to cling in segregated areas of the mouth. If you fail to brush or floss a spot of plaque off your teeth, it will calcify (harden) into tartar. The more stubborn substance offers more effective protection for harmful germs, and requires professional care to remove.
Each of your mouth’s oral bacteria has a specific job to do. One of the more notorious types is Porphyromonas gingivalis, which survives by tricking your immune system so that it can’t be found. When your body registers a malicious microorganism, one if its primary defensive reactions is inflammation, which helps drive out the microorganisms before infection sets in. P. gingivalis produces a molecule that allows it to evade inflammation, and the excessive swelling can damage your gums, leading to destructive gum disease. Left untreated, inflammatory gum disease can destroy the gums and jawbone that support your teeth, making it the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the United States. Researchers are especially interested in the germ for its effect on your risk for other inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes, and dementia. If allowed into your bloodstream through damaged oral tissues, P. gingivalis could potentially incite inflammation in other vital tissues throughout your body.
If you’ve wondered just why candy and other sugary substances cause cavities, then Streptococcus mutans is your answer. The carb-hungry oral bacteria consume sugar and starches, then convert them into acid that attacks the outer layer of your teeth. Known as tooth enamel, the semi-translucent coating is made almost entirely of minerals, which it receives from your teeth. Bacterial acid depletes your teeth of essential minerals, making it difficult for enamel to regain its strength in the face of acid attacks. It usually dissipates within 20-30 minutes after your last bite or sip, but the more often you eat and drink, the more your teeth are exposed to acid erosion. In time, S. mutans and their acid can strip the enamel from your teeth, leaving them vulnerable to cavity-causing bacteria.
The problem with oral bacteria is that they don’t respect boundaries. When your gums are bleeding and diseased, simply chewing or brushing your teeth can release the germs into your bloodstream. Some bacteria that are harmless in your mouth can prove significantly dangerous to other body tissues. For instance, Streptococcus gordonii (not to be confused with its cousin, S. mutans) goes incognito by mimicking the protein, fibrinogen. As a blood-clotting agent, fibrinogen activates your blood platelets, which clump around S. gordonii microbes to protect them from your immune system. Though you can’t blame a germ for trying to survive, the excessive clotting can increase your risk for cardiovascular trouble, like heart attack and failure.
About Your Lake Forest Dentist:
Aside from providing expert general and cosmetic dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from Chicago and all surrounding communities. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.