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How Plaque Causes Gum Disease and Tooth Cavities

There's no doubt that your dentist or dental hygienist has mentioned plaque to you before. Plaque, also known as biofilm, is a white substance you try to get rid of through your rigorous at-home oral care routine and dental check-ups. But even with a top-notch routine, you may still have questions about how plaque can cause tooth cavities and gum problems. Germs thrive in a moist, dark environment with lots of sugars for nourishment. This is why your mouth makes the ideal home! And when germs overstay their welcome and create a sticky build-up of plaque on your teeth, dental problems can develop. Let's go over how this happens and how you can prevent it.


How exactly does plaque cause tooth cavities, you may wonder? There are several steps involving germs, plaque, tartar, and then cavities. Germs in plaque flourish by living in communities that can easily accumulate in your mouth. If plaque has the chance to collect on your teeth, it starts to use the foods and drinks you consume to produce acids. These acids can adhere to your teeth because of the plaque's stickiness. When the acid sticks to your teeth, it breaks down the enamel, thus setting the process of tooth decay into motion. Most acid production occurs after you eat food, according to MedlinePlus. Every time you eat a meal or snack, your teeth are prone to plaque build-up within a few minutes.

Tartar Build-up and Gum Problems

The same acids that destroy tooth enamel can start an infection of the gum tissue and bone surrounding your teeth. When you don't remove all the plaque from your teeth, it turns into a harder substance known as tartar. While plaque is the cause of gum problems, tartar build-up gives the plaque a place to thrive. It's a layering effect - the more plaque adheres to your teeth, the more tartar will form. This leads to more plaque sticking to this tartar, and so on!

In the first stage of gum problems, your gums will become swollen, and tender. The plaque that adheres along the tooth and gumline causes inflammation around the teeth. If you let plaque and tartar settle at the gumline and underneath your gums, toxins will attack the bone and ligaments surrounding your teeth. This causes a more advanced phase of gum problems, like periodontitis. There are several key aspects in preventing tooth cavities and gum problems, which we'll highlight below:

Fluoride Sources

If you have weak tooth enamel, your teeth are less likely to resist the acids produced by germs in your mouth. But there's a simple way to keep your tooth enamel healthy and strong: use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen and protect your enamel. And ask your dental professional about other fluoride sources for your family, such as mouthwashes, supplements, or fluoridated water.


Skimping on personal care will only hinder your ability to reverse gum problems and tooth cavities, and it starts with toothbrushing. Germs build up more quickly when they are not regularly brushed away. We recommend brushing your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush at least twice daily. Pay particular attention to the plaque that gathers around the gumline. Replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head often. Worn and frayed brushes don't clean thoroughly, and they harbour old germs – the culprit you're trying to get rid of!


Interdental cleaning once a day is a must! Because your toothbrush cannot reach all of the food and germs trapped between your teeth, using floss or a water flosser to get into these hard-to-reach areas helps combat gum problems and tooth decay. The best time to clean between your teeth is before bed, so that your mouth has fewer germs while you sleep. But if you prefer to do it in the morning, that's fine too! While using floss is the typical way to clean between your teeth, some people find flossing awkward. Ask your dental professional about floss holders or other interdental cleaning devices that are available.

Regular Professional Cleanings

Germs that harden into tartar cannot be removed with a toothbrush. Hence, visiting your dentist and dental hygienist for cleanings and check-ups is also necessary. During these appointments, your dental professionals will detect and treat any cavities or gum problems early, before more serious dental problems have a chance to take hold.

Healthy Eating

When you reduce your carbohydrate intake, especially refined sugars, you reduce the germs' ability to produce acids that cause cavities and gum problems. The American Dental Association stresses the importance of eating a healthy diet with lots of whole grains, proteins, dairy, and fruits and vegetables. Replace sugary snacks and drinks with cheeses, yogurt, and natural peanut butter. This helps reduce the number of acid attacks your teeth are exposed to during the day.

Plaque is the bad guy when it comes to dental problems. You already know this, since you put time, effort, and care into keeping your and your family's mouths healthy. But it's helpful to understand the exact ways plaque and then tartar can lead to tooth cavities and gum problems. We believe that knowledge is power - the more you know about preventive measures in your control, the more likely you'll be able to implement them. With a thorough personal oral care routine, consistently seeing your dental professionals, eating a healthy diet, and using the right products that work for you, know that you're doing everything in your power to keep your mouth healthy and bright!

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