Most people know the feel of plaque on their teeth even if they don’t know what plaque is exactly. It’s that soft, gunky layer that forms in your mouth and you notice if you skipped brushing your teeth that morning or the night before – or both. That gunky layer is actually a colony of bacteria that are attempting to attach themselves to your teeth.
Those bacteria, like all living things, need nourishment to live and thrive, and they get it from the sugars in the food you eat. All carbohydrates will at some point in the digestive tract break down into simple sugars, but the standard American diet is so high in added sugars that there is more then enough readily available to them on the surface of the average person’s teeth. Bacteria ingest these sugars and produce acid, and that acid eats away at the tooth enamel. This will, if unaddressed, eventually result in dental caries or cavities.
Dental plaque that is not removed will over time harden and turn into tartar, a hard mineral deposit that solidifies onto teeth. This is what the dental hygienist uses a pick to remove from your teeth when you go in to have them cleaned. A build-up of plaque and tartar can also cause inflammation of the gums – the first step in gum disease.
Interestingly enough, 319 newly unearthed documents reveal that decades ago the sugar industry worked with the National Institute of Health to shift the focus of researched into cavities and cavity prevention away from reducing the consumption of sugar to other strategies. “The dental community has always known that preventing tooth decay required restricting sugar intake,” said Cristin Kearns, the postdoctoral scholar who discovered these documents. “It was disappointing to learn that the policies we are debating today could have been addressed more than 40 years ago.”
This is particularly distressing as cavities and tooth decay are the most common childhood diseases in this country, and they are largely preventable. Oral health has been found to be closely linked to overall health, as well – which means that following the advice of dentists all those years ago would have lead to numerous life-long positive outcomes for generations of people.
If you or your child is experiencing a problem with plaque, please know that this is something that can be addressed and remedied at your dentist’s office. At Dental Associates of West Michigan we take your health – both dental and overall – seriously and we will happily work with you or your child to incorporate more health habits into your daily lives.