Biofilm: a friend becomes an enemy
What do pebbles in streams have in common with the teeth in your mouth? Both are coated with biofilm. While pebbles only become slippery, biofilm can cause problems for your teeth.
This coating can make you ill – if it is not properly removed or disorganised in its layered structure.
First of all, the pellicle is formed. This ultrathin deposit, made up of proteins and other components in the saliva, covers freshly cleaned teeth within just a few hours. As found in nature on pebbles in streams, biofilm has formed – only a few micrometres thick, fairly free of bacteria and quite easy to rinse off.
This pellicle is a friend. As the initial oral biofilm, it is basically valuable since it protects teeth twofold: firstly, from acid attack and, secondly, it prevents the tooth enamel from being worn away by the other teeth, or by food when chewing.
But over time good turns to bad – at least in this case. Bacteria soon start to accumulate. The first layer of plaque starts to form.
If plaque can now grow undisturbed, new microorganisms quickly gather on it and multiply continuously. New layers form, which is what is meant by plaque becoming “structured”.
A friend becomes an enemy
In this structured plaque, the bacteria do not merely cling on to each other. Instead, they form a structured community, in which they supply each other with metabolic products through specially created channels. Protein and carbohydrate chains are formed. These chains serve as food reserves and - a particular problem - mechanically strengthen the deposit. Both the metabolic products and the mechanical strengthening are good for plaque but harmful to oral health.
The consequences: caries, gingivitis, periodontitis
This structured plaque contains microorganisms whose growth is favoured by high sugar consumption. These microorganisms are able to exploit the sugar and secrete acids in doing so, which in turn attack the tooth enamel: mineral salts are dissolved out of the tooth’s surface and caries is the result.
In addition, there are the metabolic products of the microorganisms. These metabolic products irritate our immune system and, combined with natural decay products of the cell wall, lead to gum inflammation, known as gingivitis. If gingivitis goes untreated, the consequence can be periodontitis, the destruction of the dental supporting tissue. In addition, halitosis is frequently caused, since bacteria in plaque often create strong-smelling sulphur compounds.
Oral hygiene means disrupting the bacteria community
A toothbrush, dental floss and interdental brush remove not only newly forming plaque structures but also older, structured plaque – or at least disorganise its pathogenic structure.
This is what oral hygiene is all about: if the structured and self-sufficient bacterial system in its layered structure is damaged by thorough teeth cleaning, it takes only days for the biofilm to get reorganised – and its dangerous exchange system is set in motion once more.