Monday, May 18, 2009

Dental Health: What Is Plaque

Dental Health: What Is Plaque
by Michael Russell

If no action is taken to maintain proper dental health care, acid will form and attack the tooth enamel, allowing tooth decay to penetrate into the softer tissue inside the tooth. If the decay is not treated in its early stages, it will progress to the tooth pulp, a soft tissue containing nerves, arteries, veins and lymph vessels. Eventually, an abscess will begin to form at the root - and unless endodontic (root canal) treatment is carried out, the tooth will be lost.

Plaque must be removed daily, if not, the irritants in plaque can cause swollen, red, bleeding gums. These conditions occur when plaque hardens and forms tartar (calculus) that collects around the tooth under the gum line, causing the gum to pull away from the tooth. Pockets form between the tooth and under the gum line. Plaque and its harmful by-products move down along the tooth towards the roots. When the bone is eaten away, the tooth, with little support, will become loose and fall out. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is one of the main causes of tooth loss in adults. However, if it is detected in time, it can be treated. Practising proper dental health care, you will be able to notice any warning signs of tooth decay.

Food is a huge contributing factor in causing plaque formation on teeth. Sticky, sugary foods are the traditional cause of tooth decay. However, over the past decade, scientific thinking about the connection between diet and tooth decay has changed quite appreciably. Dentists no longer talk about foods being good or bad for teeth. How often you eat and how long food remains in the mouth are considerations that are just as important as what you actually eat.

A bacterial deposit (plaque) constantly forms on the tooth surfaces. The bacteria in plaque thrive on refined carbohydrates (especially sugar) that are converted into acid. This acid damages the tooth enamel and erodes it until a cavity (caries) forms. Dental scientists have found that these bacteria can use either natural or processed sugars. Sugar in an apple is as likely to cause tooth decay as sugar in a chocolate bar.

Furthermore, the simple starches in foods such as bread, cake or cereals are broken down by salivary enzymes into the same kinds of sugars that generate the formation of acids. The main problem with sticky confectionery, such as toffee or dried fruit and with long-lasting boiled sweets, is that they remain in the mouth (and release sugar) for a long time, thereby increasing the likelihood of tooth decay. It is best, therefore, to eat sweets in moderation and to brush and floss your teeth regularly. If you must have sugary foods, restrict their consumption to immediately after meals, when increased saliva production makes them less harmful.

Another point often overlooked in dental health care for children is that children older than one year old should not be put to bed with feeding bottles containing fruit juice, sweetened tea, flavoured or sweetened milk, or even cows milk. The flow of saliva slows during sleep and the liquid can stagnate on the teeth. The sooner a mother starts cleaning a child's teeth - even if it is breastfed - the less chance of it developing tooth decay from food and drinks.

Foods that promote dental health care and especially lessen plaque formation are raw vegetables, nuts, popcorn, plain yoghurt and cheese. In fact, cheese is not only considered one of the best sources of calcium (a nutrient essential for healthy bones and teeth), but research has also shown that certain types - for example, aged Cheddar - protects the teeth against the acids that cause tooth decay.

Michael Russell

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