What Is Biofilm?
You may not be familiar with the term biofilm, but it is something that you come into contact with every day. The plaque that forms on your teeth and causes tooth decay and periodontal disease is a type of biofilm. Clogged drains also are caused by biofilm, and you may have encountered biofilm-coated rocks when walking into a river or stream. Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, gluelike substance that can stick to all kinds of surfaces–metals, plastics, soil particles, medical implant materials and oral tissues. Biofilms can be formed by a single bacterial species, but biofilms more often consist of many species of bacteria, as well as fungi, algae, protozoa, debris, and corrosion products. Essentially, a biofilm may form on any surface exposed to bacteria and some amount of water.
Dental Plaque Biofilm
Dental plaque is a yellowish biofilm that builds up on the teeth. Biofilms contain communities of disease-causing bacteria and their uncontrolled accumulation has been associated with cavities and gum disease (both gingivitis and periodontitis). In the past, scientists studied bacteria by looking through a microscope at cells suspended in a water droplet. Today, scientists believe that the disease-causing bacteria do not exist as isolated cells, such as in the water droplet, but rather they adhere to various wetted surfaces in organized colonies that form diverse communities–biofilms. Dry Mouth (from medications and reduced saliva) greatly increases biofilm growth.
How Biofilms Form
- Free-swimming bacterial cells land on a surface, arrange themselves in clusters, and attach.
- The cells begin producing a gooey matrix.
- The cells signal one another to multiply and form a microcolony.
- The microcolony promotes the co-existence of many different bacterial species in all stages of growth.
- Some cells escape to their freeliving form and perhaps to form new biofilms.
Antibiotic Control of Biofilm
Although gum disease can be controlled by proper oral hygiene (toothbrushing, flossing, rinsing), gingivitis is present in almost all of the US population at some point in life. Treatment of oral infections requires removal of the biofilm and calculus (tartar) from the teeth and gums by surgical or nonsurgical procedures, sometimes followed by antibiotic therapy. Unfortunately, these infections are not completely responsive to antibiotics. For this reason, oral infections are chronic diseases that require ongoing treatment and daily care by proper oral hygiene measures. Prevention is the best strategy.
Chemical Control of Biofilm
When good oral hygiene practices fail to prevent the development of biofilms, toothpastes and mouthwashes with chemotherapeutic agents can be used. As well as Xylitol, Waterpiks and electric tooth brushes like Sonicare. Some rinses can help kill microorganisms in the biofilm. Chlorhexidine, triclosan, and essential oils and minerals–agents proven to kill the harmful bacteria–can reduce the degree of plaque and gingivitis, while not allowing disease-causing microorganisms to colonize. Xylitol slows the reproduction of strep bacteria as well as reduces the adhesive capability of the bactieria making it hard for them to 'stick'.
Biofilm and Your Health
Biofilms are highly resistant to antibiotics. Consequently, very high and/or long-term doses are often required to eradicate biofilm-related infections. Biofilms are responsible for diseases, such as:
- Otitis media the most common acute ear infection in US children
- Bacterial endocarditis infection of the inner surface of the heart and its valves
- Cystic fibrosis a chronic disorder resulting in increased susceptibility to serious lung infections
- Legionnaire's disease an acute respiratory infection resulting from the aspiration of clumps of Legionnella biofilms detached from air and water heating/cooling and distribution systems
- Hospital-acquired infections infections acquired from the surfaces of catheters, medical implants, wound dressing, or other medical devices
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