At any given moment, your mouth plays host to 10-15 billion bacteria, divided into approximately 600 different species. The word bacteria may instantly conjure images of malicious microbes attacking your cellular structure or infecting healthy body tissue, but most of the microorganisms that reside in your mouth are neutral, if not helpful, and can assist in important physiological processes in your mouth. In fact, only a few of your oral bacteria are harmful, and those responsible for major dental infections have been isolated and identified over the last couple of decades. Waco dentist Dr. Corbet Locke explores the two most notorious oral bacteria, Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis.

Streptococcus Mutans, the Tooth Decay Microbe

Contrary to popular belief, tooth decay is not a direct cause of eating too much sugar. The main reason for tooth decay is a bacterium within your oral cavity called Streptococcus mutans, or S. mutans. Your teeth are naturally protected by the strongest substance in the human body, tooth enamel. Unlike other tissues in your body, enamel contains no living cells and cannot repair itself once it has been damaged. Enamel does contain minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, and if weakened, enamel can strengthen itself by acquiring more of these minerals. When you consume food and beverages that contain sugar and starches, S. mutans metabolizes these ingredients and excretes lactic acid over the surface of your teeth. Because it is anaerobic (meaning it does not require oxygen), S. mutans is fond of attaching itself in between teeth and in the crevices of your teeth’s chewing surfaces. As the acid attacks your enamel, it also saps minerals from your teeth, depriving your enamel of the means to protect itself. Once the enamel is compromised, bacteria can slip past its protection and reach the relatively defenseless tooth underneath, causing tooth decay.

Porphyromonas Gingivalis, the Gum Disease Microbe

Periodontal (gum) disease is the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the United States. It also has been linked to severe chronic inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and stroke, among many others. Researchers now understand that the main culprit and link between gum disease and systemic diseases is the bacterial species Porphyromonas gingivalis, or P. gingivalis. The presence of this microbial strain has been proven to incite your immune system’s inflammatory response to infection, hence the red, swollen, and bleeding gums associated with periodontal disease. Bacteria can enter your bloodstream through the soft infected gum tissue, and as P. gingivalis travels throughout your body, it can incite similar inflammatory responses in the tissues it contacts.

Gum disease is not curable, however it is treatable. To learn more about preventing or treating gum disease, schedule a consultation with Dr. Locke by calling our Waco dental office at (254) 776-4888. We welcome patients from Waco, Woodway, McGregor, Hewitt, and surrounding communities.