Let’s start with a simple look at the process of tooth decay: Acids produced by bacteria in the mouth eat away at the teeth and create decay.
To break that down a bit further:
The acids attack the outer layer–the tooth enamel.
As the acids continue to eat away and erode, the enamel layer is penetrated.
Now, the damage continues on into the middle layer of the tooth (called the dentin).
From there the acids eat into the center (called the pulp, where the nerves and blood vessels are located).
Now the barriers are breached and infectious bacteria and toxins can enter into your blood stream, leading to further health issues, infections and immune system responses.
And of course cavities can be quite painful, limiting your ability to eat or drink.
As tooth decay progresses then the tooth is often lost–resulting in expensive dental procedures, unsightly smiles and ongoing discomfort.
It is a serious matter and along with gum disease has been called the “Silent Epidemic.” In fact, the average American adult has more than 10 teeth that are decayed or have been filled or are missing. Over 25% of ALL Americans over 65 have lost ALL of their teeth.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The bacterial strain that is the main culprit behind tooth decay is called S. MUTANS (just a name), and it is important to understand that this bacterial strain is native to your mouth and not a problem when present in normal amounts and in a properly balanced mouth. It is only when this bacteria builds up and gets out of balance that the acidic process hits damaging levels. So the key is control not eradication, as you will NEVER get rid of this bacterial strain.
Plaque is a type of biofilm. The word "biofilm" literally translates to LIVE FILM.
And that's exactly what biofilm is, a tightly grouped mix of microorganisms that bind together, forming a film which then adheres to surfaces in your body such as your teeth.
Just as in the illustration here, bacteria like to group together and a biofilm is such a grouping.
Most of us think of plaque as that hard, crusty stuff that our dental hygienist has to clear away every six months. It is easier to understand plaque and its damaging effects if you can picture it as a living “film” that covers the surface of your teeth and extends down beneath the gum line.
Plaque is a living coating that sticks to your teeth and down into your gums.
Why is that a problem? By itself a biofilm or plaque is not necessarily bad. We have biofilms throughout our body and they play an important role in our survival… until they get out of balance or out of control.
For example, with plaque there can be an overgrowth and imbalance of bad bacteria. These particular bacteria create acids as they digest sugars and these acids then demineralize your teeth, literally leaching the minerals out of your teeth. As they grow, and die, they leave hard deposits, dig down into the gums and then establish hard to get rid of colonies of bacteria deep in your gums.
Picture an acidic film that sits on your teeth and down under your gum line. Then picture what that acidic film can do on a 24/7 basis and you should have a clear idea of how tooth decay takes place.
This process not only harms your teeth and gums but can spread infectious material into your bloodstream and throughout your body–not a good outcome at all.
Simple carbohydrates, sugary foods, fruit juices, and alcohol, for example, are all superfoods for these bacteria.
Excellent that you do so, and you should continue, but it may not be enough. Brushing and flossing are critical parts of any oral health regimen but as the bacteria start growing back almost immediately then these actions are not a complete solution.
Ideally, the bacteria that grows back would be a beneficial blend of oral bacteria.
Additionally, given that the biofilm is quite persistent and will entrench itself in hard to access areas–such as in the gums and tooth crevices–then just brushing and flossing won't reach into the deeper zones. Here, in these deep, protected areas, the bacteria can be at their strongest, creating acids that eat away at your teeth and foster gum disease.
As mentioned earlier, there is one bacterial strain that is primarily associated with tooth decay. It is named “Streptococcus Mutans,” or “S. Mutans” for short. This bacteria is known for its ability to rapidly metabolize sugars and its powerful ability to produce acids. Multiple tests have shown that the presence and quantity of S. Mutans is an effective marker for the likelihood of tooth decay and gum disease.
Other tests have demonstrated that those individuals that were without, or had few cavities, also had high levels of probiotics (bacteria) present in their oral cavity that were known for their ability to suppress the S. Mutans strain.
→ Important fact: Higher levels of the S. Mutans strain of bacteria have been directly associated with higher levels of tooth decay and an increased progression rate of gum disease.
→ Additionally important: Studies have shown that oral probiotics are effective in reducing S. Mutans levels in the oral cavity.
Oral probiotics protect against tooth decay by suppressing the levels of S. Mutans and this reduces the probability of tooth decay and cavities. Oral probiotics are also very effective at combating acids in your mouth and restoring a healthier pH balance.