Plaque

Dental plaque is the main preventable cause of tooth decay and gum disease.

Learn simple strategies to control, detect, and fight plaque, to greatly improve your oral health.

  • gingivitis
  • plaque bacteria
  • toothbrush and floss
  • scaling and root planing

What is plaque?

Know your enemy

Plaque is a thin coat on teeth that is soft, sticky, yellow, and transparent. Constantly forming, especially after eating, dental plaque contains bacteria, food debris, and minerals. It tends to build up on rough surfaces (chewing surfaces, edge of fillings) and just above the gums.

If ignored, plaque hardens to tartar or calculus, requiring professional cleaning; and plaque passes under the gums, setting off gum disease.

Plaque damage

Cavities, gum disease & blood clots

Plaque risks your health to cavities, gum disease, and blood clots. To understand how plaque causes such damage, read ahead.

Plaque & cavities

Plaque is a major risk factor for cavities. How so? Oral bacteria break down food, especially sugars and starches, into acid. So plaque, which contains bacteria, bathes the underlying teeth in acid, decaying them. Such tooth decay can lead to cavities (holes in teeth).

Plaque & gum disease

Plaque is a major risk factor for gum disease. As it accumulates under the gums, it inflames them (gingivitis) and eventually the bacteria and acid cause bleeding gums, and permanent loss of tooth and bone.

Plaque & blood clots

Further, certain bacteria that enter the bloodstream through damaged gums can cause blood clots and fatal endocarditis, an infection of the heart's valves that the body's immune system cannot beat, cutting blood flow to the heart and brain. If interested, learn more about how dental plaque bacteria may trigger blood clots.

Fight plaque

Oral hygiene is key

To fight plaque, practice oral hygiene per ADA guidelines. In so doing,

  • brushing removes plaque from exposed dental surfaces
  • flossing removes plaque between teeth and under the gums
  • regular dental cleanings remove plaque and tartar missed by brushing and flossing
  • a balanced diet with limited snacking combats the damage plaque and bacteria cause to the teeth's enamel

Now, it is ineffective to skip regular brushing and flossing and make up later with extra. By then, soft plaque would have hardened to tartar, which brushing and flossing cannot remove.

Detect plaque

Plaque disclosing tablets

How well is your oral hygiene fighting plaque? To assess, chew so called disclosing tablets, which turn red any plaque or tartar. Available at any drug store, they can alert you toward a professional dental cleaning sooner than the ADA recommends (every six months).

References
WebMD - Tooth Plaque: Causes, Prevention, And Treatments
Science Daily - Dental Plaque Bacteria May Trigger Blood Clots
MedLine Plus - Dental Cavities
Colgate - Dental Plaque: Tips To Remove