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You might know what plaque looks like or what it feels like.  But what actually is it, why is it so bad, and how can we get rid of it?

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria on the teeth.  It often forms on back teeth (which are harder to brush) and along the gum line.

When the deposits are small they are colorless and hard to see.  But when plaque starts to accumulate it can look like a thick white deposit on the teeth.  You might even be able to feel it with your tongue or mistake it for a piece of food.

Plaque is constantly forming in your mouth and increases every time you eat or drink.  This is due to the sugars that are introduced into the mouth at mealtimes, which the bacteria feeds on and grows.  As the bacteria multiplies and plaque increases, your enamel will suffer damage if it is not removed.

When Plaque Becomes Tartar

Plaque that isn’t removed while it is still thin and sticky will eventually harden into tartar.  This hardening can happen in just over a day!  So twice a day brushing and flossing is essential for keeping tartar at bay.

Leaving tartar on the teeth subjects your enamel to repeated exposure to increasing amounts of bacteria.  The bacteria will continue to damage your teeth, eventually causing cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease.  If left untreated, the damage can even progress to tooth and bone loss.

Only your dentist or hygienist can remove tartar because it requires special instruments to safely scrape it from the teeth.  So remember to visit your dentist every six months for a cleaning!

Plaque and Heart Disease

Studies have linked the bacteria in plaque to heart disease and other health conditions.  Normal amounts plaque will not affect your overall health, so there is nothing to fear if you care for your teeth properly.

The problems occur when bacteria builds up due to issues like gum disease.  This increased amount of bacteria can then begin to spread and negatively impact your overall health.

How to Remove Plaque

Plaque is easy to remove through normal brushing and flossing.  Just remember these tooth brushing guidelines:

  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Choose a toothpaste with fluoride
  • Hold your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle against your teeth
  • Brush gently for at least two minutes, using a vertical or circular motion
  • Pick a toothbrush that is the right size for your mouth (not too big, not too small)
  • Floss well to remove buildup from in between teeth
  • Change your toothbrush every three to four months

Plaque will remain fragile enough to remove with a toothbrush until it hardens into tartar.  Just remember not to rely solely on mouthwashes to clean your teeth; plaque is sticky and needs to be physically removed with a brush and dental floss.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

The bacteria in plaque thrives on sugary foods, so be sure to watch how much sugar you eat and how often you eat it.  Every time we eat anything – even a snack – the bacteria multiplies in our mouth.

A good rule of thumb is to limit between meal snacking as much as possible and always have plenty of water available after meals.  This will help wash away some of the sugars and starches you ingest when you eat, and helps decrease the amount of bacteria that settles onto your teeth and gums.

Also, don’t smoke.  Smokers tend to have higher amounts of tarter on their teeth and worse overall oral health in general.

Written by: Dr. Yahya Mansour