Brush your teeth at least twice a day and don’t forget to floss.
We’ve all heard these instructions before and know them to be an important part of caring for your teeth. But there’s so much more to it than that!
Here’s what your dentist wants you to know — even if you practice these habits, your mouth is constantly full of bacteria that’s just waiting to eat away at your teeth and cause cavities, gum disease, and decay.
Dr. Black takes a closer look at this topic today with 10 truly startling facts about the bacteria living in your mouth.
1. There is such a thing as good bacteria
Before we get too far in, it’s important to understand that not ALL bacteria is bad.
Studies show that up to 700 types of bacteria can live in the human mouth, with 250 to 300 there at any given time. And while many mouth bacteria is disease-causing, many others actually help break down food and help keep you healthy.
Take probiotics, for example. Probiotics are an especially good bacteria in the mouth — helping to fight bad breath and gum disease and aiding digestion.
2. Bad bacteria thrive when the pH balance in your mouth drops
As you may remember from chemistry class, the lower the pH, the more acidic something is. The higher it is, the more alkaline (or basic).
Just like in the rest of your body, maintaining a healthy pH balance in your mouth is vitally important. That’s because your pH levels can either encourage probiotics (which we just learned are good bacteria) or fuel the growth of bad bacteria. It all comes down to the foods you eat and how often you eat them.
For example, when you eat a lot of sugary/starchy or highly acidic foods (candy, soda, bread, crackers, lemons, oranges, etc.) the pH in your mouth drops to 5.5 or below. This creates an acidic environment that fuels bacteria in the mouth to produce lactic acid, which in turn causes tooth decay.
Your saliva can help neutralize this acid by remineralizing teeth, buffering acid, and clearing away food. But depending on how much acidity is in your mouth, it may take a while for this to happen — sometimes up to several hours. This is plenty of time for bacteria to wreak havoc on your teeth and gums.
On the other hand, maintaining an overall healthy and balanced diet (and maintaining a neutral pH level of 7.0), will allow you to handle the occasional sugary or acidic meal without experiencing a shift to cavity-causing bacteria.
3. Snacking is bacteria’s best friend
As we just mentioned, cavities form when your mouth experiences higher-than-normal levels of acidity over an extended period of time. That’s the problem with snacking!
Every time you eat or drink, the bacteria in your mouth starts breaking down the food or liquid you just consumed, creating acids as a byproduct. Your saliva also starts working, using calcium and phosphates to neutralize acids and return your mouth to a neutral pH.
However, when you snack frequently, you’re giving the bacteria in your mouth a steady supply of fuel. Your saliva just can’t keep up!
As much as possible, do your best to limit eating cavity causing foods and beverages to meal times only. If you do enjoy snacking between meals, avoid letting the food sit on your teeth. Rinse with water and then wait 15 minutes before brushing your teeth and flossing if necessary.
4. When your mouth is dry, bacteria goes wild
We’ve learned how saliva is incredibly important for cleaning your teeth and fighting cavities
— maybe even more so than you realized! So as you can probably imagine, a lack of saliva in your mouth can be a big problem.
Dry mouth is a condition where the salivary glands in your mouth just can’t make enough saliva.
It is often a side effect of certain medications or even just the natural aging process. Whatever the cause, dry mouth causes a great environment for bad bacteria to flourish.
If you suffer from dry mouth, talk to your dentist about a saliva-increasing rinse or toothpaste. You’ll also need to pay extra attention to your brushing and flossing routine to make sure you’re getting clean. And drinking lots of water is helpful, too.
5. Bacteria is active all night — so brushing in the morning is imperative
Bacteria-filled plaque is coating your teeth during all hours of the night. That’s actually where that unpleasant morning breath comes from! This is especially true if you’re a mouth-breather, which dries up your saliva.
You should always brush your teeth in the morning to get rid of the bacteria that developed in your mouth overnight. I usually recommend doing this after breakfast, since you’ll want to brush after eating anyway. But choose a time that works best for your morning routine.
6. Bacteria is extra dangerous when you have chipped or cracked teeth
Have a small chip or crack in your tooth? This small imperfection might be barely noticeable to you and others, but the bacteria in your mouth definitely see it.
When your tooth is chipped, the soft bone-like tissue that covers the root (called dentin) is exposed. Unlike enamel, which helps protect your teeth from decay, dentin is no match for bacteria.
Bacteria will sneak inside your tooth via the chip or crack and begin eating away. Before you know it, that “minor” issue will become infinitely worse, and may even lead to a root canal or dental implant.
7. Even if your teeth feel clean, they are coated in plaque
When saliva, food, and liquids combine, it creates a substance called plaque. Plaque is a soft and sticky bacteria-filled film that’s constantly forming on your teeth.
Plaque is filled with bacteria that produce cavity-causing acids. The bacteria in plaque can also cause early stages of gum disease, contribute to bad breath, and make your teeth look dingy and yellow.
Plaque can even cause your teeth to feel kind of smooth, leading people to believe their teeth are clean, even when they’re not!
Since plaque will naturally begin forming around 4 to 12 hours after brushing, it’s just another important reason to make sure you’re practicing good dental hygiene habits.
8. Unless you remove it, plaque will sit on your teeth forever
Plaque doesn’t just go away on its own. It takes dedicated care every day.
The best way to fight plaque is to brush your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day and floss properly at least once a day.
Talk to your dentist to make sure you’re flossing your teeth correctly. And you may want to test out a few different types of interdental cleaners as well, such as floss, tiny brushes, or water picks.
9. Plaque vs. Tartar: partners in crime
So what happens if you just let that plaque sit around? Nothing good, that’s for sure!
When plaque is allowed to sit and build up over time, it will begin to pick up minerals from your saliva and harden into tartar.
Just like plaque, tartar can cause tooth decay and irritate gum tissue, leading to disease and other issues. However, unlike plaque, tartar is much stronger and cannot be removed by at-home brushing or flossing. You’ll have to visit your dentist for a professional cleaning.
10. Brushing harder isn’t the answer
We keep talking about how important brushing and flossing are in the fight against bacteria build up. But there’s something else you should know — how you brush and floss matters. Often people believe that the harder and more vigorously they brush or floss, the better the clean.This isn’t true. Not even close.
Brushing too hard will actually wear away the surface of your teeth and gums. Over time, this heavy-handed approach can end up exposing the super sensitive roots of your teeth, a process called gum recession.
It’s very important that you brush using gentle circles — especially near the gums — and that you always use a soft-bristle toothbrush. Just put in the time (two minutes) because time matters.
The same can be said about flossing. We often see people pulling the floss through their teeth or punching it up and down hard between their gums. This not only fails to remove plaque, it also hurts your gums, leading to bleeding and swelling.
Instead, hold your floss at an angle so it wraps around the tooth and removes plaque when you gently slide it up and down.
Preventive dental care is key to avoiding bacteria
Timberhill Dental, we’ll help you take a preventive approach and stop dental bacteria in its tracks. We’ll make sure you understand how to brush and floss properly and keep bacteria from running the show.
Schedule an appointment to evaluate how well your current dental hygiene habits are working.
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