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Fight Bacteria for a Healthy Mouth

When it comes to tooth loss, the primary culprits are decay and periodontal disease. Tooth decay, the gradual breakdown of the tooth’s enamel and interior tissue, can cause cavities and, eventually, the death of the tooth. Periodontal disease, on the other hand, attacks the gum tissue, ligaments, and bone that support the teeth. Both of these conditions result from the uncontrolled growth of bacteria in the mouth.

At any time, the number of microbes living in your mouth exceeds the human population of the earth. Although most of these microbes are harmless, some bacterial species—Streptococcus mutans in particular—are responsible for tooth decay. The decay-causing bacteria mix with saliva to form a sticky, naturally occurring film, called plaque, that adheres to the surface of your teeth. The bacteria consume sugar from food residue in the mouth and excrete lactic acid, which becomes part of the plaque layer. If plaque isn’t removed, the acid dissolves the tooth’s enamel and inflames the gum tissue.

The plaque that forms on easily accessible surfaces can be dislodged with natural chewing and tongue movements. However, hard-to-reach places—such as between the teeth, in the furrows of the molars, and at the edges of the gums around the teeth—are likely spots for plaque to build up and disease to develop.

Most people can keep bacteria in check with a relatively simple regimen of home care. Some individuals, however, have less natural resistance to oral bacteria. For these people, decay or gum disease may appear or advance despite their best efforts at hygiene. If your dentist suspects this is your problem, he or she may test your susceptibility to bacteria and tailor your oral care accordingly.

The cornerstone of any good oral hygiene program is regular brushing. To prevent the chain of events that occurs when bacteria accumulate, you must remove plaque from the surfaces of your teeth at least once every 24 hours. It’s best, though, to brush at least twice daily—once after you eat breakfast in the morning and then again in the evening before you go to sleep. To keep your brushing regimen effective, replace your toothbrush when the bristles splay out of line, generally about once every three months.


Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.

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