You’re now seeing a CAMBRA dentist because you want to actively prevent cavities instead of just reacting to cavities that have emerged. Of course, your dentist is counseling you on how to manage your biofilm, which has lead you to wonder–how did I develop biofilm in the first place, and what causes biofilm on teeth to grow?
You may be wondering what biofilm is to begin with. Simply put, biofilm is the collection of organisms that live together in a group structure. The structure is called an extracellular matrix; it allows the single cell organisms to share resources and act more like a larger organism. Biofilm can be made up of a single type of bacteria or of a few types, and can include single cell organisms like yeast. Bacteria in biofilms behave differently than bacteria remaining single agents.
Now that we understand what biofilm is, let’s talk about where it come from…
Biofilm at the Beginning
Biofilm is not just something in older children and adults. Babies develop biofilm quickly as they develop teeth. Well-meaning mothers who don’t want to put a dirty pacifier back in baby’s mouth and wash it off by popping it in their own mouths or moms who share a spoon with baby quickly introduce the bacteria from their oral biofilm into the baby’s mouth, allowing it to establish a biofilm there.
Biofilms, once removed, return quickly. It only takes 24 hours after a thorough cleaning for biofilm to regrow. That’s why you can’t just remove a biofilm and be done with it; you have to manage your biofilm.
Why Does Biofilm Grow?
Simply, because it eats. Your biofilm eats what and when you eat. Bacteria (and other single celled organisms) thrive on the sugars, natural and added, that are in our food. The more often you eat or drink anything other than plain water, the more often you feed your biofilm. The more sugars in your food and beverages, the more readily the bacteria in the biofilm can use your food for their food.
pH also helps determine how easily certain bacteria in biofilm grow. The bacteria that form dental plaque, a biofilm closely associated with cavity formation and gum disease, thrive in low pH environments. Your oral pH drops each time you eat and drink (other than plain water). Saliva in your mouth can help raise oral pH levels back to safe levels if time between eating and drinking is long enough. Frequent sipping and snacking make biofilms overgrow, leading to more cavity danger. If you must eat frequently, consider xylitol gum or high pH rinses to help raise your pH more quickly.
Biofilm exists on teeth from the early days of teeth. It’s a constantly growing group of bacteria living together to share resources, which makes the bacteria much harder to kill. It lives on the food you eat in the acidic conditions that emerge once you begin eating or drinking. Managing your biofilm is a lifelong job that helps lessen cavity risk when done properly