Only a few minutes after a professional clean, an ultrathin film starts to develop on teeth. This pellicle – also called initial, oral biofilm by professionals – is formed largely of proteins that are in the saliva. The job of the pellicle is to prevent acids from attacking the teeth and releasing the minerals therein. Just like a lubricating film, it protects teeth when chewing from abrasion caused by food or the other teeth. This young, fresh biofilm is tooth-friendly – at this stage.
However, bacteria soon starts to adhere to the pellicle. Bacteria form a sticky mass from food deposits such as proteins and sugars. Also known as plaque, this biofilm is actually easy to remove. But if it is not removed, the new biofilm rapidly takes on dimension, becomes structured and solidifies and is soon overlaid with the next biofilm, and the next. Soon a friend becomes an enemy.
A bit of biofilm, no big deal, you might think. But the problem is that, after a few days, nutrients and metabolism products are already being systematically exchanged between the biofilm layers, which damages both teeth and gums. For example, some bacteria make use of sugar – and then secrete aggressive acids. These acids dissolve mineral salts from the surface of teeth. Caries is the result.
The gum line also reacts to this structured biofilm and the metabolic products of its microorganisms: it makes itself hostile to bacteria, which means inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is actually a trick of nature but the gum damages itself in this long-term process. If gingivitis remains untreated, periodontitis, the destruction of the dental supporting tissue, can result. This process is irreversible and sooner or later leads to tooth loss.
The biofilm is easy to remove with a toothbrush, interdental brush and dental floss – or can at least be disrupted in its destructive development and that is just as useful. Only by damaging the supply chain of structured layers in plaque can the pathogenic system in plaque be disrupted – for a maximum of 24 hours. By then, the biofilm has got itself organised again – and set its dangerous exchange system in motion once more.
It’s worthwhile being just as friendly towards this pellicle, this friendly biofilm: by not eating much sugar and going easy on beverages that are particularly acidic such as fruit juices, cola and energy drinks. And what about the mature, older plaque, those unfriendly biofilm layers? Sort them out regularly: with a toothbrush, interdental brush and dental floss.