Dental plaque is a biofilm or mass of bacteria that grows on surfaces within the mouth. It is a sticky colorless deposit at first, but when it forms tartar, it is often brown or pale yellow. It is commonly found between the teeth, on the front of teeth, behind teeth, on chewing surfaces, along the gumline, or below the gumline cervical margins.
Progression and build-up of dental plaque can give rise to tooth decay – the localised destruction of the tissues of the tooth by acid produced from the bacterial degradation of fermentable sugar – and periodontal problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis, hence it is important to disrupt the mass of bacteria and remove it. Plaque control and removal can be achieved with correct daily or twice-daily tooth brushing and use of interdental aids such as dental floss and interdental brushes.
Oral hygiene is important as dental biofilms may become acidic causing demineralization of the teeth (also known as dental caries) or harden into dental calculus (also known as tartar). Calculus cannot be removed through tooth brushing or with interdental aids, but only through professional cleaning called scaling.
GINGIVITIS (GUM DISEASE)
Gingivitis (“inflammation of the gum tissue”) is a non-destructive disease that occurs around the teeth. The most common form of gingivitis, and the most common form of periodontal disease overall, is in response to bacterial biofilms (also called plaque) that is attached to tooth surfaces, termed plaque-induced gingivitis.
Gingivitis is reversible with good oral hygiene; however, without treatment, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, in which the inflammation of the gums results in tissue destruction and bone resorption around the teeth. Periodontitis can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
The symptoms of gingivitis are somewhat non-specific and manifest in the gum tissue as the classic signs of inflammation:
- Swollen gums
- Bright red or purple gums
- Gums that are tender or painful to the touch
- Bleeding gums or bleeding after brushing and/or flossing
- Bad breath (halitosis)
Additionally, the gums may appear shiny when the gum tissue becomes swollen and stretched over the inflamed underlying connective tissue. The accumulation may also emit an unpleasant odor. When the gingiva are swollen, the epithelial lining of the gingival crevice becomes ulcerated and the gums will bleed more easily with even gentle brushing, and especially when flossing.
If you notice any signs and symptoms of gingivitis, schedule an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing damage from gingivitis and preventing its progression to periodontitis.