Dentist checking a patient

Plaque: What Is It and How do I Get Rid of It?

Proper oral hygiene isn't just for freshening your breath after lunch. You may have heard about plaque-fighting oral care products or the importance of flossing, but what exactly is plaque? Learn what plaque is and how to remove and prevent it from damaging your teeth with this guide.

What is Plaque?

Plaque — also called biofilm — is a colourless layer of germs that builds up on your teeth. When we eat foods full of carbohydrates, the germs in our mouth feed on those carbohydrates and produce acids. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), those acids can weaken enamel and increase the risk of developing cavities. Plaque will eventually harden into tartar and make your gums swollen and sensitive, which could indicate the start of gum problems. The good news is that plaque removal is simple with good oral hygiene and your dental hygienist's help.

How to Remove Plaque at Home

Getting rid of that sticky biofilm is easy. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces of your teeth, between your teeth and under the gumline, can help remove the food debris that feed germs. When plaque has hardened into tartar, also known as calculus, you must visit your dental hygienist to remove it, as regular brushing and flossing will not be enough.

Brushing Your Teeth

You should brush your teeth at least twice a day or after every meal. Brush for at least two minutes to prevent the build-up of germs and the formation of cavities. It doesn't take a lot of pressure or vigorous brushing to remove plaque. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to brush each tooth will help remove build-up and food debris.

Remember that germs love the carbohydrates found in sweets, fizzy drinks and snacks. Reducing the amount of these foods and beverages, along with brushing and cleaning between your teeth, is crucial to keeping plaque under control.

Floss, Flossers and Other Interdental Cleaners

Cleaning between your teeth and under the gumline is crucial for biofilm and plaque removal, and can help prevent gum problems and tooth cavities. There are several kinds of products that will clean in those hard-to-reach places.

  • Traditional dental floss can curve around your teeth to clean every side of each tooth.
  • Water flossers use a water jet to clean between the teeth.
  • Dental picks can reach between the teeth if you have braces or another barrier to flossing with dental floss.

Ask your dental hygienist for recommendations on flossing products.

How Can I Prevent Plaque Build-up?

According to the Oral Hygiene Association of South Africa (OHASA), plaque is easily wiped or brushed off the tooth surface. Now that you've learned how germs build up on your teeth, remember to do the following:

  • Brush all surfaces of your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day
  • Clean between your teeth and under your gumline with floss, water flossers, or another tool daily
  • Limit sugary or starchy foods and drinks, especially snacks
  • Book regular appointments with your dental hygienist and dentist

If plaque builds up for too long, it can harden into tartar, which cannot be removed at home. Fortunately, your dentist and dental hygienist can treat plaque or tartar build-up issues and give you special instructions for your exact situation. Happy brushing. You've got this!

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