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A visit to your periodontist is best avoided if possible.

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Bacteria are sometimes the good guys – but not when it comes to your gums. Here’s why.

In some of our recent blogs on the topic of periodontal disease, we’ve spoken about the role that bacteria play in this condition. So for today’s blog, we want to take a step back and explain a little more about the role of these ‘little feckers’ (as our Dunboyne reader often refers to them).

When we explain to our patients how they need to constantly wage war on bacteria, they sometimes question us on the size, shape and form of these microorganisms.

Typically, your standard bacterium is only a few micrometres in length (that’s very, very, very small!). And in case you think that bacteria are some sort of ‘new condition’, you'd be very wrong. They’ve been around, in fact, for a very long time and were among the earliest life forms to appear on our planet.

You’ll find bacteria thriving in practically every habitat imaginable on this earth of ours. They’re just as comfortable in soil as in water, or in radioactive waste or the deepest sections of the earth’s crust.

But apart from living on their own, they also adopt a symbiotic relationship with plants and animals i.e. a relationship that is mutually beneficial. The bacteria that are found in our gut, for example, get to feed off our food, but do enormous good work to keep our innards healthy.

The message from this is that not all bacteria are ‘the bad guys’. Unfortunately, however, the guys who like to live in our mouths are up to no good.

As to how many bacteria you might find in any particular habitat, it’s estimated that there are around forty million bacterial cells in a single gram of earth. Yep – your heard us right. A single gram! And as to how many exist in total on our planet, scientists say that the figure is 5×1030. Don’t bother even trying to work out how big this number is – it would take you longer than your lifetime to do so.

Bacteria love warm, moist conditions such as the inside of our mouths, so they’re very, very happy hanging out around the gum area. They are not very powerful, as you might imagine, so they can’t attack the hard substances of the tooth. Instead, they focus their efforts on the softer tissues of the gums. And obviously, if your gums weaken, you’ll eventually lose your teeth. Sad – but true!

And if you don't fight back against bacteria every day, it's inevitable that you’ll end up paying a visit to the periodontist. But there’s absolutely no need to let things get this serious. Periodontal treatment is very effective – but prevention is even better!

By prevention, we simply mean brushing at least twice a day with anti-bacterial toothpaste, plus rinsing as often as feasible with an antibacterial mouthwash. And because bacteria love to feast on rotting mouth that linger between our teeth, flossing or using interdental brushes is also a great way to make sure that bacteria don't get too comfortable.

If you think that bacteria may be getting the upper hand in your mouth – and would like to read more on this topic – here’s a handy place to start - http://www.dentalhealth.ie/dentalhealth/causes/periodontaldisease.html