CAMBRA dentistry looks at cavities as the result of a disease of the biofilm. That sounds good, but it doesn’t help much if you don’t know what it really means. What exactly is biofilm and how can it be healthy or unhealthy?
- Biofilm is full of bacteria, but having a biofilm doesn’t mean you’re sick.
- You’ve probably felt your oral biofilm, maybe without realizing that’s what it was.
- Your biofilm is not simple–it’s made up of multiple types of bacteria.
- Your biofilm is subject to selection pressure.
- You can encourage good bacteria and discourage less healthy bacteria in your mouth by raising your oral pH.
1- Biofilm is full of bacteria, but having a biofilm doesn’t mean you’re sick.
The human body is a marvelous organism, but a surprisingly large amount of cells in the body aren’t human. Microorganisms live in and on each and every person. In fact, according to the NIH’s Human Microbiome Project, there are 10 bacteria cells for each human cell in the human body, making up between 1-3% of each individual’s body mass. Biofilm in the mouth is part of the bacteria that normally inhabit the human body.
2- You’ve probably felt your oral biofilm, maybe without realizing that’s what it was.
Maybe you’ve just pounded down a ton of candy and soda (Halloween candy binge anyone?). Maybe you were out camping, didn’t brush before bed, and woke up to a fuzzy feeling that had nothing to do with sleeping in warm socks. If you’ve ever noticed a thick, even furry coating over your teeth and gums in your mouth, you’ve felt an overgrown oral biofilm. If your reaction was to reach for a toothbrush to dislodge that feeling, it’s perfectly natural. Brushing twice a day is one of the ways we help control the bacteria that inhabit our mouth and keep them at healthy levels.
3- Your biofilm is not simple–it’s made up of multiple types of bacteria.
Simple, in this context, means made up of a single ingredient–a single type of bacteria. Biofilm is complex, and it’s supposed to be complex. The various types of bacteria help balance each other out. In fact, when one type of bacteria completely takes over, it’s usually a sign that things have gone very wrong and a disease process has begun. That said, some bacteria don’t belong in a healthy mouth and are always likely to provoke an immune system response in healthy people.
4. Your biofilm is subject to selection pressure.
Selection pressure is how scientists describe the way an environment favors one type of creature over another. Some environments have the right food and conditions for one type of creature and are unfavorable for others. Certain types of plants, for example, grow in deserts, an environment with extreme selection pressure. Your mouth is no different. Your particular oral environment favors certain types of bacteria and makes it hard for other types to survive.
5. You can encourage good bacteria and discourage less healthy bacteria in your mouth by raising your oral pH.
Cavity-causing bacteria thrive in acidic environments. They have negative selection pressure–they don’t survive well–in high pH environments. Eating and drinking lowers the pH of your mouth, so using oral care products specifically designed to help your saliva raise your oral pH back to healthy levels can help you prevent cavities by helping make conditions hostile to dangerous bacteria.