What Exactly is Biofilm?

May 18, 2011 | Posted in Education

Some of you might have seen certain toothpaste commercials on television talking about what appears to be the latest threat to your oral health…biofilm!

If so, you might have wondered what biofilm is.

The first thing to be aware of is that biofilm is not a new oral health issue! In fact, most of you are probably familiar with another term for biofilm as it relates to your oral health…namely, plaque!

The reality is that the plaque that forms on your teeth is a form of biofilm. As such, there is no need to feel that biofilm is some brand new form of mutated superbug that did not previously exist. It was always there! We simply did not have the technology to recognize it! More importantly, we did not understand how it develops and grows.

The good news is that today, we have that understanding. And that means we are better able to control and eliminate it!

Now that you know that biofilm on the teeth is essentially plaque, you may still be wondering what is biofilm?

Biofilm is a complex community of bacteria that has adhered to some sort of surface, such as a tooth. It is protected by an exterior surface of, for want of a better word, slime.

Believe it or not, beneath this slime is a well organized community of bacteria. As part of that organization, it is interesting to note that different types of bacteria will thrive in different locations within the biofilm.

For instance, deep within the biofilm, where it is harder for air to reach, you will find bacteria that survive better with less oxygen. Conversely, as you move to the exterior surface, the bacteria you find there need higher levels of oxygen to thrive. These different types of bacteria have found a way to meet their individual needs while surviving together in the same colony.

The colony also has an elaborate system for eliminating its own waste products. From our standpoint as dentists, the exterior slimy surface as well as the ability of these bacteria to adhere to teeth makes them difficult to remove. Antibiotics are ineffective at killing them while rinses cannot eliminate them.

Fortunately, biofilm bacteria can be wiped off the surface of your teeth. And that means regular brushing and flossing. Brushing has to be for at least two minutes each time in order to be effective at removing biofilm. It is such a sticky substance that casually wiping the surface is not enough to remove it from your teeth.

And even if you maintain good brushing and flossing habits, biofilm will grow underneath the gums where the brush and floss cannot reach. Regular trips to the dentist are essential to clean the biofilm from the area of the teeth beneath the gum line.

So there you have it. Next time you see that commercial, you will know that biofilm is nothing new. However, we now understand it better. That means we are in a better position to know how to eliminate it. Because understanding how to remove biofilm is a healthy habit…and healthy habits lead to healthy lives!

Dr. Wayne Perron

Dental Surgeon