How Plaque Causes Gum Disease

Plaque build-up can lead to gum disease. So how can we tackle it?

Dental plaque is a type of biofilm, which is a build-up of bacteria that forms on the surface of your teeth. The majority of plaque can be removed with regular brushing and flossing, however if this isn’t maintained plaque can build up to the point where it has serious consequences.

If there is a lot of plaque on your teeth, the biofilm uses the sugars in your food to produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel.

Plaque that is not removed can then harden into tartar, which makes it more difficult to brush and floss, causing it to collect on your gum line. This is what ultimately causes swollen and bleeding gums. This is called gingivitis, which is the early stages of gum disease.

If the gingivitis goes untreated, it will lead to more severe gum disease, causing tooth loss and decay.

Most adults in the UK actually have gum disease to some degree, and it can be caused by a number of factors, but poor oral hygiene is the most common.

See Also: Safeguarding Oral Health 


Treatment of biofilm is partly a matter of education, and many dentists will now use a ‘discloser’ treatment which shows up the biofilm by colouring it, making it easier to guide the dentist’s cleaning procedures, and to educate the patient in a self-treatment program.

Improvements in clinical cleaning procedures mean that polishing treatments which actually cause damage to the enamel of the teeth and leave ‘hiding places’ for biofilm can be replaced with safer and more effective air-based polishing systems.

But a lot of responsibility for good oral health remains with the patient, and there are many ways oral hygiene problems are treatable. Firstly, it is always essential to visit your dentist as soon as you notice signs of bleeding gums or soreness.

See Also: Sensitive Teeth? The Causes and Treating Sensitive Teeth 

Who’s at risk?

Many cases of gum disease that are still in early stages of gingivitis, can be treated by just maintain proper standards of oral hygiene. This means brushing at least twice a day, flossing and using mouthwash.

However, more severe cases of gum disease may need special treatment provided by the dentist.

A ‘scale and polish’, for instance, is a method of deep cleaning your teeth, that works to get rid of the tartar that a toothbrush alone will not be able to remove. Depending on how much tartar has built up in your gum line, you may need more than one scale and polish.

In other cases of gum disease, root planing may be required. This is a deep clean underneath the gums, getting rid of the bacteria that has accumulated in the roots. Many people require an anaesthetic before the procedure and can expect discomfort for around 48 hours afterwards.

In very severe gum disease cases, the decaying teeth may need to be removed or gum surgery may be necessary.

See Also: Guard Your Gums From Gum Disease 

Factors contributing to gum disease are:

Smoking: a huge factor in gum disease because the chemicals inhaled from cigarettes interferes with your ability to repair damaged tissues.Nicotine is toxic to your fibroblast cells, which are essential to the repairing of tissues, and the less they work, the more rapid progression of gum disease.

Age: gum disease is most common in adults over 35.

Diabetes: Diabetes means that a person’s blood sugar levels become too high, thus causing more damage to the teeth and increasing the risk of gum disease.

Pregnancy: hormonal changes during pregnancy can actually make a woman’s gums more vulnerable to plaque build-up.

Weak immune system: People who have a weakened immune system are more susceptible to gum disease because their bodies to not work to repair ailments as quickly as others do. This includes people who are undergoing chemotherapy, and those with HIV or AIDS. •

This feature was originally pubished in the winter edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here

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