The bad bacteria in your mouth tend to get a lot of press. Your dentist may talk about how brushing your teeth disrupts the plaque that these bad bacteria have created. And your antibacterial mouthwash may be designed to kill these bad bacteria so they don’t produce acids and eat away at your teeth.

However, there are also benign and even beneficial bacteria living in your mouth. Here are some of the key differences between the good and the bad bacteria.

1. Feeding on Sugars

The bad bacteria love to eat sugars and starches. This is why your dentist may tell you not to eat a lot of sugar throughout the day. Eating just one bite of sugar can feed hundreds and hundreds of bacteria and allow them to produce acids, reproduce themselves, and form more plaque which will harm your teeth.

This effect can last for around 20 minutes or more from just one bite of sugar. That’s why snacking on sugary treats is even worse for your teeth than eating them all at once.

Good bacteria, on the other hand, don’t tend to proliferate when you eat sugar or starches. This means that eating sugar can allow the pathogenic bacteria to crowd them out, causing an imbalance. If you want to increase the good bacteria in your mouth, you can eat probiotic foods that contain helpful bacteria.

2. Texture of the Biofilm

Biofilm in itself isn’t intrinsically bad. Before bacteria colonize, your tooth surface gets covered in special proteins from your saliva. These proteins form a layer called a pellicle that bacteria then hang on to. If none of the bacteria were pathogenic, this would actually be a good thing. The bacteria could form a light layer that would shield your enamel from acids.

However, this light biofilm is not what your dentist is talking about when they refer to plaque. Plaque develops when pathogenic bacteria take over and start to overpopulate the biofilm, making it thicker, stickier, and heavier so it will protect them from your saliva, which is slightly alkaline.

3. PH Levels

In addition to allowing the pathogenic bacteria in your mouth to repopulate and overwhelm the good bacteria, a sugary diet also feeds them with what they need to produce acids. Pathogenic bacteria in your mouth love acid; not only do they grow well in an acidic environment, but they also actually create acids after they eat sugar.

When bacteria create thick plaque layers so that the acids they create are sheltered from your saliva, the effect on your enamel can be considerable. Unfortunately, the effects of acid on your enamel are negative and tend to involve erosion and demineralization.

The good bacteria in your mouth do not produce acids or thrive in an acidic environment. So fostering their presence and reducing the presence of pathogenic bacteria can help your teeth and your enamel stay strong.

Some tooth products make use of this fact to help fight bad bacteria. Arginine-containing toothpaste can feed a specific type of bacteria that then makes the biofilm more alkaline, canceling out the acidic effects of the bad bacteria. This may also help improve growth rates of benign or beneficial bacteria while suppressing overgrowths of cavity-causing bacteria.

As you can see, the bad bacteria in your mouth are the acid-loving varieties and you should try to reduce their presence in your mouth as much as possible. You can do that by not only avoiding sugary snacks but also by rinsing your mouth out after you eat anything sugary or starchy and then chewing a piece of xylitol gum to help reduce plaque formation.

Contact the office of Richard Leong Jr., DDS, PA, today if you need a checkup, professional cleaning, or other dental work.