Dental Care

Tooth Plaque and How To Prevent It

Important Information about Tooth Plaque

Essentially everyone has this to one degree or another. A colorless sticky film that continuously forms on and between tooth surfaces above the gums, along the gum line, and below the gum line on the roots of the teeth.

This film consists of bacteria, epithelial cells, proteins and other substances.

It can make your teeth feel "fuzzy" to the tongue and is most noticeable when you have not brushed your teeth recently.

Tooth plaque can begin accumulating as quickly as four to twelve hours after brushing and flossing. Because it forms continuously, controlling plaque is a matter of preventing buildup rather than its formation.

Plaque is soft and can be scraped off with your fingernail. However, if you do not remove it within about 48 hours, plaque starts hardening. After about ten days, it becomes tartar (dental calculus), which is very hard and very difficult to remove.

The Dangers of Tooth Plaque

Plaque is the leading cause of tooth decay, cavities and periodontal problems such as gingivitis (gum disease) and tooth loss. The bacteria in plaque produce acid that over time destroys tooth enamel, resulting in cavities and tooth decay.

Plaque on the roots of the teeth can erode the bone beneath the gums. As you can see, it is extremely important to use good daily oral hygiene and remove your plaque before it has time to harden. Plaque is also responsible for causing halitosis, another name for extremely bad breath.

If you are turned off by the sound of tooth plaque and its dangers, there are several steps you can take to prevent its buildup. First, however, you should determine whether your routine oral hygiene is adequately removing your plaque or allowing it to build up.

An Easy Way to Detect Tooth Plaque

Plaque is colorless, but you can detect it by using plaque disclosing tablets in the comfort of your home. These special tablets contain a harmless red dye that stains any plaque it finds.

You begin the process by brushing and flossing your teeth as usual. Next, chew one of the tablets and swish the resulting mixture of saliva and dye over your teeth and gums for about 30 seconds. Rinse your mouth with water and then examine your teeth and gums for any areas dyed red or pink.

If present, these areas indicate plaque that was not removed during your brushing and flossing. This simple test will improve your oral hygiene by helping you identify and focus on areas you might have difficulty cleaning properly.

Preventing Tooth Plaque Buildup

As mentioned earlier, everyone has dental plaque. You will want to follow these tips to prevent the potential damage a buildup can cause.

  • Good oral hygiene is essential, so brush your teeth at least twice a day. Use a soft, rounded-bristle toothbrush, and pay particular attention to areas where your gums and teeth meet, along with any areas where plaque-disclosing tablets indicate you have a problem. Use one of the plaque-fighting toothpastes with fluoride that are so widely available. Dislodge lurking food particles, plaque and bacteria caught between your teeth by flossing at least once a day.

  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a checkup and professional teeth cleaning. If your dentist sees an excessive buildup of plaque or tartar below the gum line, you might need a procedure called scaling to remove it from the crowns and roots of your teeth. In some cases a non-surgical procedure called root planing might be required to remove plaque and tartar from the roots of your teeth and in gum pockets.

  • Eat a balanced diet and limit snacking between meals. Any between-meal snacks should be nutritious, such as raw vegetables, fruit or plain yogurt. Vegetables, including celery, can help remove lingering food particles in your mouth as well as help your saliva neutralize the acids that create plaque. Limit starchy and sugary foods, especially sweet or sticky snacks.

  • Consider chewing gum, but make it a sugar-free variety. Gum will cause your mouth to produce more saliva, which helps neutralize and rinse away some of the acids that lead to plaque formation. In addition, minerals in your saliva can help strengthen the enamel of your teeth and reduce your likelihood of developing a cavity.

  • Consider using an electric toothbrush. Studies have shown they significantly reduce tooth plaque buildup.

Avoid tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis, bad breath and the host of other problems tooth plaque can cause by following these simple tips.

A good oral hygiene routine is essential.


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