What is dental plaque?
Dental plaque is a, rather surprisingly, very organized structure composed basically by micro-organisms (bacteria), molecular sized food debris, molecules and minerals provided by the saliva of the host organism (proteins, calcium, magnesium, etc.) and water from saliva (80%).
On naked eyes it is a yellowish mass that gathers on teeth surfaces mostly around the gum line. The dental plaque starts to develop immediately after all the tooth surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned as components of the saliva and some species of bacteria start to adhere to the surfaces. As the amount of molecules and bacteria attach to the tooth rises, a matrix starts to form . This matrix is what makes it impossible to remove plaque by rinsing.
The species of the genus Streptococus have been found to be the earlier colonizers of the tooth surfaces. Streptococus mutans deserves special mention as it has been recognized by its notorious roll in plaque cohesion, producing substances that bond the components of the matrix, and adhesion to the tooth structure. Despite of the quantity of S.mutans found in dental plaque (little when compared to other types of bacteria) the fundamental importance of this specific micro-organism in the formation of dental plaque held it accountable for dental decay and gum disease. In general terms it is common to state that Strptococus mutans is the cause of dental caries but the mechanism is much more complex than that.
Is dental plaque harmful?
Yes. The bacteria colony in dental plaque produces a acidic environment that will decalcify the tooth structure resulting in dental decay. It also irritates the gum initiating inflammation causing bleeding gums or gum disease.
If plaque is not removed it can turn into calculus, mostly known as tartar, through the addition of minerals that are abundant in the saliva such as calcium and magnesium. The tartar itself is not harmful, but it has fundamental importance in the progression of gum disease.
How to prevent the formation of dental plaque?
The prevention of dental plaque formation has been topic of many studies. No solid conclusions have been established yet. But dental plaque can be easily removed with a tooth brush and a dental floss and its removal is essential to prevent dental decay and gum disease and to enhance quality of life.