Remember when you were a child and the science teacher had you watch microorganisms grow in a petrie dish? The lesson learned was if you provide the right environment, the organisms would flourish. Dental plaque operates under the same theory. Your mouth is the right environment and your teeth are the petrie dish. Your mouth acts almost as if it is an enclosed biosphere. The warm and moist atmosphere, constantly fed nutrients, is the perfect area for the growth of microorganisms. Dental plaque is the result.

Biology Lab Experiment

If you allow the bacteria in a petrie dish to grow without interruption, as long as it has nourishment, it will not stop growing. The same is true of dental plaque. Dental plaque is the buildup of bacteria on the teeth. When it gets thick enough, the plaque normally appears as pale yellow. The bacteria are usually harmless. The kind of bacteria that creates plaque is always present in the mouth. The problem that occurs is when the dental plaque is not removed regularly and continues to build up, creating a thick layer. Even good bacteria can cause a problem if left unchecked.

If you pretend for a minute that you are conducting a biology lab experiment, these are the processes you would record.

  • Biofilm begins to form on teeth
  • Dental plaque builds to a think layer
  • Tooth surface bacteria begins anaerobic respiration
  • Acids produced
  • Tooth enamel begins to erode

This is an experiment gone haywire! Dental plaque that is not removed frequently will eventually become mineralized. When this happens, it forms something called calculus or tartar. Those times you were in the dentist chair, and it felt like the technician was using a jackhammer in your mouth, were merely procedures being followed to break up and removed hardened dental plaque.

Recording the Results

Left to grow uninterrupted, dental plaque can eventually cause problems. These problems include the following.

  • Cavities
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Swollen gums

Plaque that was formed most recently creates the least problems. But once dental plaque mineralizes, it is very difficult to remove. In addition, when plaque covers a tooth, saliva cannot get below the mineralization. Saliva neutralizes acid in the mouth, including that produced by dental plaque building bacteria. Gingivitis and periodontitis are often called gum disease or periodontal disease.

Award Winning

In your science experiment, proving how fast the bacteria will grow can win you an award. But the only award you want to win for dental plaque is an award for prevention! Preventing plaque build up is not difficult. It just requires regular teeth maintenance.

  • Brush teeth twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Use fluoride toothpaste
  • Visit the dentist every 6 months
  • Stop smoking

Regular visits to the dentist will insure removal of any tartar on your teeth. Even with good dental hygiene, there are always tough to reach spots on your teeth where dental plaque can form. Fortunately, plaque build up can be prevented. This is one science experiment that you hope fails!

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