Who is enemy number one? ORAL BACTERIA! It’s estimated that at any given time, our mouth has a total of 20 billion oral microbes (bacteria), made up of at least 800 different species. The ability of specific bacteria to cause dental diseases is largely dependent on the environmental conditions found in the mouth, much of which can be controlled by our oral hygiene and what we eat. An important characteristic of pathogenic bacteria is the ability to create a biofilm, also known as plaque. Adhesion properties in bacteria are key to establishing communities and three-dimensional structures in plaque that are difficult to remove. Sugar provides the key fuel for bacteria’s ability to achieve strong adhesion. Once established, bacterial plaque will continue to multiply and grow.
Dental decay is a direct result of bacteria that release acid, and periodontal disease is associated with an over-accumulation of different species of bacteria. In either case, the destructive bacteria reaches a point where it dominates the good bacteria and infiltrates in such a way that causes destruction of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth.
With an understanding of how bacteria leads to disease, we can better equip our mouths to fight these organisms by:
- Brushing and flossing – mechanical removal of plaque to prevent colonization;
- Using baking soda with toothpaste to lower acidity of mouth;
- Reducing sugar intake – limits adhesion capability and decreases acid production;
- Using sodium fluoride toothpaste – kills bacteria and decreases acidity ;
- Applying essential oils (e.g., eucalyptus) with antibacterial properties;
- Consuming antioxidant foods (e.g., green tea, cranberries) – contain phytochemicals with antibacterial properties.