Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (b. 1632) was the “Father of Microbiology”. A Dutch tradesman and scientist, he was a pioneer in the development of the microscope.
And he was the first person to discover that the human mouth is teeming with life.
One day he scraped the white matter from around his teeth and smeared it onto a glass slide (as one does). When he looked through his microscope he saw what he called “animicules”. Today we call them bacteria.
The mouth is a perfect environment for microorganisms (which include bacteria, fungi and viruses). It’s warm, it’s wet and there’s plenty of food. When we eat, so do they!
And there are plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in. In the gum margins, on the surface of the tongue, the fissures of your teeth…these are all great places for bugs to settle down.
A happy balance…
In a healthy mouth, it is not a problem to have these microorganisms and they are known as the “normal flora”. Some are thought to actually have a beneficial role.
And it’s not just the mouth that is home to these critters. The skin and the gut also are home to many species of microorganism.
…that can go horribly wrong!
Problems set in when certain microorganisms get a foothold and in the mouth this can result in tooth decay and gum disease.
Tooth decay (or dental caries) is caused by plaque which is a collection of bacteria. The bacteria love the sugar that you eat. They create plaque acid, which dissolves the enamel of your teeth. That’s the start of tooth decay.
Gum disease is caused by a different set of bacteria in plaque in the gum margin. They produce toxins which cause the gums to swell and bleed easily (gingivitis), and dissolve away the bone around the teeth (periodontal disease), causing loose teeth.
Prevention is better than cure
So how do we avoid the twin perils of decay and gum disease?
• starve the bugs out! If you cut sugary foods and drinks out of your diet, the bugs will have nothing to feast on.
• brush your teeth twice a day and after meals to remove plaque before it gets a chance to build up. Use disclosing tablets so you can spot where plaque might be building up.
• Use a fluoride mouthwash every day to strengthen the enamel of your teeth.