What is dental plaque?
Dental plaque is the sticky film that forms on your teeth. It's also known as microbial plaque and dental biofilm. When you eat, the bacteria in your mouth mix and feed on sugary, starchy foods. They also release acid to break down the food, but if you don't brush your teeth, this mix of bacteria, acid and carbohydrates forms plaque. The acids in plaque attack tooth enamel. This can cause cavities which your dentist will need to fill. Therefore, it’s best to understand how plaque forms – and how to prevent it, so you can avoid complications like tooth decay.
Fact 1: You are unlikely to see dental plaque.
Because plaque is colourless, or very pale yellow, you are unlikely to see it although you may feel a fuzzy film over your teeth.
Fact 2: Bad breath can be a sign of dental plaque.
Plaque build-up may lead to halitosis, better known as really bad breath. However, more serious indications of plaque are sore, swollen gums which are an early warning sign of gum disease. When plaque accumulates around and under the gums, inflammation can occur triggering gum disease which can lead to tooth infections and tooth loss as the disease progresses.
Fact 3: Some people develop dental plaque more easily than others.
Everyone gets plaque but some people have an increased risk, smokers in particular. People who take certain medications which dry the mouth are more susceptible to developing plaque too.
Fact 4: Dental plaque can harden within 24 to 72 hours to form tartar.
Tartar can form quite quickly. Not surprisingly, people with braces, crooked or overcrowded teeth that are harder to clear are more likely to experience plaque build-up and tartar too. Although you should not brush straight after eating when the enamel may be softer, it's important to brush them after an hour or so.
Fact 5: 68% of adults have tartar
Fact 6: Only a dentist should remove tartar
Tartar comprises of hard yellow/brown deposits that bond firmly to tooth enamel and that's why they need to be carefully removed by a trained dentist or hygienist. Brushing alone won't shift tartar.
Fact 7: Dental plaque and tartar can lead to gum disease which has been linked to more serious health conditions.
As plaque and tartar builds up around the gums and the crevices between teeth and gums, inflammation and irritation can occur. It can also lead to tooth infections and tooth loss if neglected. Gum disease is a preventable but ideally needs to be treated as soon as possible before it progresses. It's really important to prevent gum disease as it has been linked to a number of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and even premature births.
Fact 8: Fortunately, plaque can be removed by sticking to good oral hygiene habits and having a healthy diet:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush and make sure that you brush all the surfaces of your teeth. Try to brush for at least two minutes.
- Floss once a day. Flossing helps to remove the debris that gets stuck in the hard-to-reach areas between each tooth.
- If you can't brush your teeth for some time, consider chewing sugarless gum as this encourages saliva which helps reduce plaque buildup.
- You can also use a mouthwash to help remove the bacteria that causes plaque too.
- Avoid snacking on sugary treats and choose fruit or cheese snacks instead.
- Remember to schedule regular check-ups with your dentist. Six-monthly check-ups allow your dentist to spot and remove plaque and tartar. This also helps to reduce the risk of gum disease.
Fact 9: Your dentist may recommend a sealant or other treatments to manage plaque.
Your dentist will remove plaque and tartar from the tooth enamel and check for cavities. Sometimes dentists recommend other options for managing plaque. One example is dental sealant. This consists of a special plastic coating which is applied to the chewing surfaces (molars especially) to prevent bacteria from entering the tooth. They may prescribe fluoride treatments, toothpaste or antibacterial mouthwash in certain cases too.
Fact 10: Adults who brush twice daily – and have regular dental check-ups -- are less likely to have dental issues related to plaque build-up
Now you know just how quickly plaque forms and develops into tartar, you can see why a healthy diet and good oral hygiene habits are so important.
Fact 11: If you want to see how effective your tooth-brushing technique is, you can buy plaque disclosing tablets which use a special stain to show you if there is any plaque left behind after brushing.
For more information about plaque and its prevention, follow the links below: