BACKGROUND: From an ecological viewpoint, the oral cavity, in fact the oro-pharynx, is an 'open growth system'. It undergoes an uninterrupted introduction and removal of both microorganisms and nutrients. In order to survive within the oro-pharyngeal area, bacteria need to adhere either to the soft or hard tissues in order to resist shear forces. The fast turn-over of the oral lining epithelia (shedding 3 x/day) is an efficient defence mechanism as it prevents the accumulation of large masses of microorganisms. Teeth, dentures, or endosseous implants, however, providing non-shedding surfaces, allow the formation of thick biofilms. In general, the established biofilm maintains an equilibrium with the host. An uncontrolled accumulation and/or metabolism of bacteria on the hard surfaces forms, however, the primary cause of dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, peri-implantitis, and stomatitis. OBJECTIVES: This systematic review aimed to evaluate critically the impact of surface characteristics (free energy, roughness, chemistry) on the de novo biofilm formation, especially in the supragingival and to a lesser extent in the subgingival areas. METHODS: An electronic Medline search (from 1966 until July 2005) was conducted applying the following search items: 'biofilm formation and dental/oral implants/surface characteristics', 'surface characteristics and implants', 'biofilm formation and oral', 'plaque/biofilm and roughness', 'plaque/biofilm and surface free energy', and 'plaque formation and implants'. Only clinical studies within the oro-pharyngeal area were included. RESULTS: From a series of split-mouth studies, it could be concluded that both an increase in surface roughness above the R(a) threshold of 0.2 microm and/or of the surface-free energy facilitates biofilm formation on restorative materials. When both surface characteristics interact with each other, surface roughness was found to be predominant. The biofilm formation is also influenced by the type (chemical composition) of biomaterial or the type of coating. Direct comparisons in biofilm formation on different transmucosal implant surfaces are scars. CONCLUSIONS: Extrapolation of data from studies on different restorative materials seems to indicate that transmucosal implant surfaces with a higher surface roughness/surface free energy facilitate biofilm formation.
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