What is Dental Plaque and How Do I Get Rid Of It?
Plaque starts in the Sulcus.
The point where you see the gum and the tooth meet is not where they actually meet. In a healthy situation, the gums will physically attach to the tooth about 3 mm below what you identify as the gum line. This difference creates a small tissue pocket around every tooth called a sulcus.
This pocket or sulcus by way of its design will accumulate bacteria and plaque when we eat. If not cleaned out daily via correct brushing and flossing this dental plaque will trigger an inflammatory response from the body which causes the gums to swell, turn red and possibly bleed
Now here is the gross part.
If you were to combine the surface area of all the pockets / sulcui in your mouth, you would end up with an area about the size of your palm. Now, imagine that entire area in direct contact with a seething pool of bacteria 24/7. Do you think that would make you sick? Well, you would be right, and it does in more ways than you know.
I typically tell my patients that the bottom of the pocket acts like an O-ring that prevents bacteria from entering our body. Everything is awesome as long as the O-ring is tight and healthy. However dental plaque will inflame the O-ring and cause gum disease. When gums turn red and start to bleed it means bacteria can enter the blood.
What’s worse is the longer the O-ring stays inflamed the less ability it has to stick to the tooth.
If the O-ring stays inflamed for several weeks, it will start to detach and slide toward the root tip which results in a pocket depth greater than the aforementioned 3 mm. Once a pocket reaches a depth of 5 mm the bacteria that’s causing all of this starts to munch on the bone that holds our teeth. This is the point where gingivitis graduates to Periodontitis. It’s also the point where the health of your body is placed in greater jeopardy. The deeper the pocket becomes, the meaner and stronger the bacteria becomes.
Research now shows that Gingivitis and Periodontitis; both a form of gum disease, are strongly linked to the formation of heart disease, pulmonary infection, low birth weight, erectile dysfunction, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, and atherosclerosis. The link is caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream via the inflamed pocket and causing inflammation in other areas.
So what’s the answer?
If your gums bleed or show signs of being red and swollen you must change the way you brush…starting today
Therefore, do this every night…
Learn to brush 45 Degrees into the gum line. Brushing this way cleans out the sulcus where bacteria thrive. For many, this will be the most difficult and limiting component due to the muscle memory associated with the brushing arm. It’s similar to breaking a bad habit and will require time and effort. I recommend the MD Brush toothbrush which was purpose-built to improve the brushing technique and clean below the gum line. We learn to brush at a young age so changing this behavior is not easy. Electric brushes work OK but don’t provide the same degree of precision.
- Floss at least every third day and look for blood or floss that smells bad – this is the first sign of bacterial growth. Blood does not mean you’ve traumatized yourself. It means you’ve discovered an area where bacteria are growing, and the gums are already inflamed.
- Brush your teeth with an antibacterial mouthwash like Listerine. This forces the gum pocket to open up thereby flushing it out and killing a greater number of bacteria. Don’t rinse with water after, the mouthwash will continue to kill bacteria for several hours after use.
- Visit your dentist – especially if you haven’t seen one for several years
Performing your home care like this will yield immediate results, but remember gum disease runs in 72-hour cycles. In the absence of good oral hygiene, a perfectly healthy mouth can form gingivitis in 72 hours. If you perform proper oral hygiene, you can also cure gingivitis in 72 hours. Periodontal disease will require professional intervention.
Written by, Mike Davidson Dental Hygienist and inventor of the MD Brush.