The Ecosystem in Your Mouth
What we have learned over the centuries about dentistry and dental hygiene is outright amazing. And we are only scratching the surface of what we understand about how our teeth function. In fact, it has a study that has progressed over the course of centuries, and we are still learning more about it every day. If you find the subject as fascinating as we do in Austin Family Dentist, or just want to understand what causes all that nasty tooth decay, you are in the right place.
So, let’s explore the different types of bacteria or flora that reside in our teeth.
What does our Dental Ecosystem look Like?
The first to discover the existence of microbes in the teeth, was Antony van Leeuwenhoek in the late 1600’s. He was not a dentist. They weren’t invented yet. He was, however, a Dutch merchant that bought and sold in dry goods. This meant that he was rich enough to be able to afford the earliest version of a microscope. He ran a few experiments with it, and one day decided to see what he could find in his teeth. After not brushing his own for three days, he took a sample of tartar and ran it under the microscope. He found that “little animalcules” were swimming around. He drew a diagram of it and the rest was history.
As of today, dentists know that there are over 700 different types of bacteria that resides in our oral ecosystem. Some of which are beneficial, most of which do nothing at all, and some that are the direct cause of tooth decay. Some are more common than others, but what we do know is that the presence of certain bacteria can tell us just how good our oral health is.
Neutrophils: These little guys are rounded, filled mostly with water, and serve an important role in the creation and protection of the immune system. When a dentist sees a lot of these in a microscope, then it means that your mouth is strong and healthy. They are formed in the stem cells of bone marrow, and have a short life cycle. However, this doesn’t stop them from moving very quickly and assisting immediately in areas of inflammation and trauma.
MacroPhages: Translated from the Greek words “Big eater” it’s job is to remove any sort of debris that range from cancer cells, foreign substances, and harmful proteins in the body. They are shaped like a small blob with two outstretched arms, almost as if it is reaching out to grab everything it can.
Mutans streptococci: These awful bacteria were discovered and named in 1924 by Dr. J Killan Clarke. They form rod shaped chains when they have enough nutrition from sugars left over on teeth. Mutans stretococci are the first to often appear when a person is developing signs of gingivitis, and pave the way for more invasive and fastidious species of bacteria. They do this by leaving plaque behind. Thankfully, they can easily be washed away with saliva or water, but if there is no regular toothbrushing to increase those chances, they will make a home in your mouth.
Porphyromonas gingivalis: They are the main culprit behind periodontal disease, and invades by “cross talking with the host [cells] and subverting [the cell’s] its defense mechanisms. They also, through their own amino acids, are able to make their own food. These acids literally destroy the gum line, allowing these bacteria a chance to further burrow into the gum line. They can survive these long journeys because they are anaerobic, meaning they don’t need oxygen to survive. They look like little pill shapes and are often much bigger than neutrophils.
Why you Need to Brush your Teeth and Floss
If harmful species of bacteria are allowed to run amok in your mouth, then there is a good chance that it will not only add plaque on your teeth. It can do far worse. It can cause pockets in your gums, and can demineralize the very bones in your teeth. They will leave holes behind in the bone, where saliva can’t go in there and repair it. These holes can cause severe pain, tooth loss at a young age, and even leave your bloodstream exposed to other diseases like diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
That is why when you go to the dentist, it is stressed that you brush and floss every day. It is a simple thing that can save you a large headache and dental bill later.