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What Is Biofilm?

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 materials–metals, plastics, soil particles, medical implant materials, biological 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.1

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).1,3

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.

Antibiotic Control of Biofilm

Although gum disease can be controlled by proper oral hygiene (toothbrushing, flossing, rinsing), gingivitis (the mildest form) is still experienced by most of the US population at some point in life; a smaller proportion (30% to 40%) experience periodontitis (the severe form). Treatment of oral infections requires removal of the biofilm and calculus (tartar) from the teeth and gums by surgical or nonsurgical procedures, 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.2

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. These agents can 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.3

Reprints

If you would like to print additional copies of this piece log on to our Web site, www.contemporaryoralhygieneonline.com. You can also personalize copies for your practice on a variety of oral hygiene topics.

References are available at the Contemporary Oral Hygiene Web site.

Disclaimer

The content of this guide is for information purposes only. It does not substitute for the dentist's professional assessment based on the individual patient's case.

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