Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Giving pneumonia the brush-off

In Brief

Giving pneumonia the brush-off

Dental plaque is the white stuff that collects on our teeth, most often in the spots that the toothbrush doesn't quite reach. It's a homegrown version of biofilm — mobs of microorganisms that clump up and encase themselves in largish sugar molecules so they are fairly impenetrable. In biology, there's often strength in numbers.

As a biofilm, dental plaque, which can harden into tartar, may not be all bad. It can create a barrier to some potentially harmful bacteria. But much of the time, that benefit is canceled out by other bacteria in the plaque that may inflame gum tissue (gingivitis) and the underlying tissues that hold our teeth in place (periodontitis).

The trouble may not be limited to the mouth. A number of studies have linked gum disease to heart disease. Inflammatory factors, or even the bacteria themselves, may get into the bloodstream and make their way to the coronary arteries or the heart.

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