Biofilms aren’t the videos you used to watch in science class, they’re colonies of bacteria that band together for protection against adverse conditions. Biofilms are of great concern in medicine because they can form on catheters and implanted medical devices, giving an infection a stronghold from which to attack the body.

But there’s another more common type of biofilm that all of us deal with on a daily basis: plaque. When your teeth are covered with plaque, they’re really covered with a bacterial biofilm, one that helps protect bacteria against antibiotics in our saliva so they can multiply and destroy our teeth and gums. But new insight into how biofilms form may give us better approaches to tackling them in the future so we can protect ourselves from gum disease and effects like receding gums.

“Come on, Everybody!”

One recent insight into biofilm formation is the way that bacteria signal one another to get together in a biofilm. Researchers have discovered that there’s a particular signal molecule that bacteria release when they contact a surface suitable for a biofilm. In the antibiotic resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that molecule is cyclic-di-GMP, and when bacteria receive the signal, they bond together.

Initially, researchers thought that the cyclic-di-GMP worked primarily on the pili and flagella of the bacteria. These are the movement structures in the bacteria: pili are small hairlike appendages that help the bacteria to “crawl” and flagella are long, whiplike tails that the bacteria use to “swim.” They thought the primary action of the compound made them stop moving, but then they discovered that even bacteria who were unable to produce pili and flagella responded to cyclic-di-GMP and formed biofilms, so the molecule must trigger a diverse response in the bacteria.

The Good of the Many Outweighs the Good of the Few

Another recent discovery in biofilm mechanics is that the bacteria population intentionally sacrifices some of its own to help form a resistant biofilm. In a different signalling mechanism, bacteria release 2-n-heptyl-4-hydroxyquinoline-N-oxide (HQNQ). What’s different about this is that HQNQ isn’t just a signalling mechanism, it triggers bacteria to die.

But the survivors bond together into a biofilm to protect themselves against antibiotics. The survivor cells aren’t just randomly selected–they’re the ones that can activate alternate metabolic pathways, which means they’re the ones that are more resistant to antibiotics.

Battling Biofilms in Your Mouth

With all the complex mechanisms that bacteria use to form biofilms, it’s no wonder that it’s a serious challenge for oral health when these start forming on your teeth. That’s why it’s important to brush and floss regularly to help remove biofilms. And when biofilms harden into tartar, professional cleanings can help protect you against receding gums.

But if you’ve already developed receding gums and are looking for a way to reverse them, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment with an Orange County cosmetic dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.