What Is Plaque?
You’ve probably heard about tooth cavities, but another
problem might be lurking in between your teeth. Tooth cavities don't form out
of nowhere. Instead, cavities start with a buildup of plaque on your teeth.
Dental plaque is a sticky film that plays a role in a
variety of oral conditions. This clear substance forms on your teeth each day.
In fact, it starts to form as soon as you finish eating a meal or snacking. It
mostly forms on your teeth, but can also form under the gum line.
Unfortunately, plaque is one of your mouth’s worst enemies.
This substance not only creates a film over your teeth, but it slowly damages
or eats away at your tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard surface of your teeth
that protects your teeth from decay. If you’re unable to control plaque, your
enamel can’t do its job. Your risk for cavities increases as your enamel is
damaged. But the question remains, what causes dental plaque?
Causes of Plaque
There are several explanations for the formation of plaque
on your teeth. Basically, plaque needs bacteria, acid, saliva, and food
particles to form. You may think your mouth is clean and healthy, but when you
eat sugary foods or carbohydrates, these foods mix with the natural bacteria in
your mouth and create an acid. This acid mixes with saliva and food particles,
resulting in the sticky substance plaque.
Dental plaque is clear, so it's hard to see it on your
teeth. If you want to do a plaque check, all you need to do is rub your tongue
along your teeth, especially the back of your teeth. Usually, plaque makes the
teeth feel rough or slimy.
Although plaque occurs naturally, you can reduce it and
improve the overall health of your mouth.
How to Prevent Plaque
It’s important to remove plaque before it starts to damage
the enamel on your teeth. Because plaque sticks to teeth, the only way to
remove it is by brushing your teeth on a regular basis. The American
Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing at least twice a day for
at least two minutes. You should also floss once per day to remove food
particles stuck between your teeth. It doesn’t take long for plaque to form
after eating, so make every effort to brush after each meal or snack. The more
you brush, the less plaque in your mouth.
Electric toothbrushes have been proven to be most effective
in removing plaque, says the British
Dental Health Foundation. These toothbrushes have bristles that move in two
directions, which improves the cleaning action. Also make sure you schedule
regular dental cleanings every six months. Your dentist can examine your teeth
and take X-ray images about once a year. Either your dentist or a dental
hygienist removes traces of plaque and tartar on your teeth using special
Plaque doesn't go away, but certain habits and good oral
hygiene can prevent a buildup. Along with regular brushing, flossing, and
dental visits, you can reduce plaque by eating a balanced diet. Reduce your
intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. Foods to avoid or limit
You can also reduce plaque by limiting snacking between
meals, especially during times when you're not able to brush your teeth.
Complications of Plaque
Even though everyone has plaque, it isn't a minor dental
issue. Plaque that isn’t removed is a primary cause of gum disease (periodontal
disease). In fact, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that half of Americans
have periodontal disease. Other complications of plaque buildup include:
The longer plaque remains on your teeth or between your
teeth, the harder it is to remove. Hard plaque that you can’t remove at home is
called tartar. Only a dentist or a dental hygienist can remove tarter.