You know that fuzzy feeling you get on your teeth after you wake up or have eaten too much candy? That's plaque! But what exactly is dental plaque, where does it come from, and — most importantly — how do you get rid of it? Follow these easy tips for preventing plaque buildup and taking care of your smile.
Plaque: What Is It And How Do We Get Rid Of It?
Dental plaque is a sticky, colorless biofilm of bacteria that is constantly forming on your teeth. Your mouth is actually home to over 700 species of bacteria, but only certain types contribute to tooth decay and periodontal disease. The bacteria feed on the simple sugars in your food and releases acid that attacks the tooth enamel. After repeated acid attacks, the enamel eventually breaks down, leading to cavities and tooth decay. Plaque can also build up around your gumline, causing irritation, swelling, and bleeding in the early stages of periodontal disease like gingivitis.
When plaque is not removed regularly, it can harden and form calculus, commonly known as tartar. Tartar cannot be removed with regular toothbrushing and requires a professional cleaning from your dental professional or dental hygienist. Tartar can form underneath your gumline, which can cause bacteria to attack the tissue and bone that support your teeth in advanced stages of periodontal disease like periodontitis.
For regular plaque removal, you need a proper oral hygiene routine. To prevent plaque buildup and take care of your smile:
- Brush your teeth twice a day. Thoroughly brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush, using short, gentle strokes and paying special attention to the gumline.
- Floss at least once a day. Flossing daily removes plaque and food particles where your toothbrush can't reach. Gently slide the floss up and down between your teeth and curve it around the base of each tooth, moving back and forth beneath the gumline. You can also try removing plaque between teeth using other interdental cleaning devices, such as interdental brushes and water flossers.
- Visit your dentist every six months. Schedule regular trips to your dentist's office for a professional cleaning with the dental hygienist to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, plus a dental examination to check the health of your teeth and gums.
The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommends some lifestyle changes to help prevent the side effects of plaque and tartar. These include:
- Limiting sugary foods and beverages. Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in your mouth feed on the sugar from your food and drink and release acid to attack the tooth enamel.
- Stopping smoking and tobacco use. Smokers not only collect more plaque and tartar on their teeth, but they are also at higher risk for gum disease.
- Chewing sugar-free gum. Pop a piece of sugarless gum in your mouth 20 minutes after a meal to increase saliva, which washes away food debris and neutralizes the acid produced by plaque bacteria.
Everyone's teeth have dental plaque, but with a proper oral hygiene routine, you can prevent plaque and tartar buildup, protect your teeth from decay and disease, and keep your smile healthy and happy.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.