Dental Plaque


Dental plaque (sometimes referred to as “biofilm”) is an accumulation of organized bacteria that forms around teeth and matures in 24 hours where it can begin the damage of Tooth Decay and Gum Disease. This film is constantly forming on the teeth, tongue and soft tissue of the mouth, and on any dental devices – such as dentures, partials, or orthodontic appliances – that we place in our mouths. It is made up of bacteria that form on any tooth surface, above or below the gum line.

Most people think that plaque is hard, but plaque is soft and sticky, though removable with a toothbrush, floss, and/or a waterpik. Dental plaque forms and matures to a point where it can harm the mouth in about 24 hours. By this stage, a mature ecosystem has formed, with the most mature and damaging bacteria next to the tooth surface or deep in a pocket next to the area where the gums are attached to your teeth.

Bacterial Plaque: Tooth Decay and Gum Disease

The plaque that forms above the gum line is made up of bacteria that require oxygen to thrive and multiply. These bacteria predominately cause tooth decay. When this type of bacteria is allowed to sit on the tooth for long periods of time, it uses food (predominately sugars) to make acid. The acid dissolves the tooth and creates a cavity called tooth decay.

Dental plaque that forms just under or deep below the gum line is made up of bacteria that do not require oxygen to multiply. When this type of mature plaque is allowed to sit up next to the gum tissue, the beginning stages of gum disease are seen as bleeding, sore, swollen gum tissue.  Eventually the skin attachment gets loose and the pocket deepens (the disease progresses), the bacteria that live deep below the gum line are responsible for the destructive process of bone loss associated gum disease.

When dental plaque forms in a deep pocket (as found in uncontrolled moderate to severe gum disease), brushing and flossing is usually not effective in removing the deepest bacteria. An anti-bacterial mouth mixed in the waterpik water reservoir will reach down the pocket and kill bacteria.

Plaque that is allowed to form and sit for long periods of time can harden into a barnacle-like compound called calculus or tartar  that builds up on a tooth, denture, or any appliance used in the mouth. Although calculus is not harmful, it is covered by live bacteria that is harmful. Once dental plaque has hardened, it is labor intensive to remove, requiring the attention of a dental professional to assure proper removal.

The bacteria that are found in the mouth are “acquired” and from a number of sources. As a newborn, our mouths are considered almost sterile (without bacteria). However, oral bacterial is acquired as we pass through the birth canal, from whoever feeds us as they first test the temperature of our food before placing it in our mouths, through sharing drinks, food, kissing, nail biting…and any other exposure our mouth may encounter. The moist, warm atmosphere creates an ideal environment for them to thrive.

We now know that dental plaque also harbors a variety of viruses, especially the plaque found deep in periodontal pockets.