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Plaque: Definition, Causes and Prevention

What is plaque?

Plaque is a sticky yet soft film built up on and around your teeth. Plaque contains millions of bacteria, and if not removed, can lead to gum problems and tooth decay.

And no, this plaque is not the kind of plaque you get at an award ceremony when you’ve done a good job.

This is the kind of plaque you want to avoid having at all.

But what is this type of plaque? And how can it affect your overall oral health if you experience more than just plaque deposits?

The good news is that plaque can be easily removed just by practicing good oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing daily. If not, then the bacteria will release harmful acid and damage tooth enamel. As a result, this can cause more advanced tooth problems such as periodontitis.

So what’s the difference between plaque and tartar?

Plaque and tartar are two different things. Plaque is the soft film in your teeth while tartar is a hardened plaque. The latter is hardened enough that it requires a dentist to remove it. Leaving tartar intact can lead to gingivitis, periodontitis and/or tooth loss.

What habits causes plaque development?

There are a lot of causes of plaque formation. Most of it involves not practicing good oral hygiene habits. These habits include:

  1. Not brushing your teeth regularly. There are social consequences if one doesn’t brush regularly. Even if it’s not visible, remember that bacteria are microscopic. These microbes immediately stick to your teeth, secreting acids that can potentially damage your teeth.
  2. Not flossing. Although you may brush your teeth after a meal, there are still sections that are not reached by your brush. Common spots missed include the corner pockets in between and behind your teeth that only flossing may be able to reach.
  3. Eating the wrong types of fruits and vegetables. Even before the creation of toothpaste, much less fluoride, there were “natural toothbrushes” that helped clean your teeth. Apples, cucumbers, carrots, celery and other fruits and vegetables can act like toothbrushes. However, with our modern diet, real toothbrushing is still vital.
  4. Too much starch. Bacteria thrives on carbohydrates such as sugar-enriched foods. Eating too many sweet foods provides an opportunity for bacteria to dwell in your mouth. The remaining starch will become acid, and as a result, damage your teeth.

How to prevent plaque formation

  • Brushing your teeth is essential. According to the American Dental Association, brushing once a day may be good, but twice a day is better. It brushes off plaque formation on your teeth. It is best to use fluoride toothpaste with a soft-bristled toothbrush, brushing your teeth for 2 minutes in a circular motion including your gums, tongue and even the insides and back of your teeth.
  • Flossing every day. Flossing is important because it reaches parts of your teeth that your toothbrush can’t.
  • Eating and living healthy. Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial because carbohydrates and starchy foods negatively affect your oral health if left untouched. If you can’t resist too much sweet food, always make sure to brush your teeth after eating as well as drinking lots of fluid. Substitute sugary foods with sugar-free or sugar-alternative snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Make seeing your dentist at least semi-annually a priority. Your dentist can tell whether your teeth need special attention. Your dentist can also prescribe special toothpastes and mouthwashes to remove plaque and bacteria from your mouth if necessary.

Upkeep a healthy mouth, a healthy life, and just maybe a “plaque-free” plaque will come your way to hang on your wall.


Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.

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