The importance of properly removing plaque from teeth is often emphasized, but many people still don’t understand what plaque is or what happens when you fail to remove it.
Plaque is the first step in a chain of events that can lead to many conditions that will negatively impact your oral health.
Make sure you’re removing all of your plaque with a natural plaque-fighting toothpaste as part of a good oral hygiene routine. If you don’t get it off in time, you might not be able to get it off at all.
What is Plaque?
Plaque is a thin, sticky film that builds up on the surface of your teeth. Sugary foods and soft drinks largely contribute to the formation of plaque. While cupcakes, popsicles, and ice cream contain a fair amount of sugar, they aren’t the only sugars that create this colorless film.
Healthy foods like apples, tomatoes, and low fat dairy products also contain sugar. Another component of plaque is starch that naturally occurs in potatoes, peas, corn, grains, and beans.
Even people with clean raw vegan diets will naturally accumulate plaque on their teeth. It happens to everyone and there’s no way to prevent it.
What Causes Plaque Buildup?
Plaque buildup happens to everyone throughout the course of the day. Plaque is building up after everything you eat or drink, and it sticks around until you brush it away. It’s normal.
When you use the bathroom, you need to wash your hands. When you use your mouth to eat or drink, you need to clean it out. It’s the normal course of something getting dirty and being cleaned through proper hygienic processes.
What Happens If Plaque Isn’t Completely Removed?
Plaque should be completely removed as a part of an adequate oral hygiene routine. As long as your teeth are adequately cleaned twice daily, plaque shouldn’t become a problem. It’s gone as quickly as it came.
The longer plaque sits, however, the more bacteria it accumulates. It keeps this bacteria stuck to your teeth and your gum line, allowing it to damage your enamel and your gums.
If you fail to completely remove plaque, it will begin to harden into a substance called tartar that you won’t be able to remove. Tartar is more problematic than plaque and can cause significant damage to your teeth and gums.
How Can I Tell If I Have Plaque?
Everyone has plaque before they brush their teeth. It’s important to be able to tell whether or not your brushing technique is completely removing your plaque. You can purchase plaque disclosing tablets at any store that sells toothpaste and dental hygiene supplies.
These tablets are chewable and designed to stain the plaque in your mouth. They will often turn red on new plaque and blue on old plaque. You’re then able to brush until both the new plaque and the old plaque are completely removed.
These are typically marketed toward children who are learning to brush, but they’re just as valuable for adults who want to occasionally double check to be sure their teeth are clean. It never hurts to keep them handy.
What is Tartar?
Tartar, or dental calculus, is the substance that forms when plaque isn’t properly removed. It begins to form in as little as 12 hours after plaque becomes present. This means that skipping your brushing routine for a single day has the potential to form tartar on your teeth.
Tartar often appears on the back of the teeth, as this is a spot that many people don’t brush adequately. If you use a mirror to look behind your teeth and notice a hard build that covers the border of each individual tooth, this is plaque. Plaque also appears as a hard lump up against the gums.
Can I Remove Tartar Myself?
Tartar is heavily adhered to the teeth and cannot easily be removed safely. Dental tools that promise to help you remove plaque, such as small sharp hooks, often cause more damage without solving the problem. Tartar needs to be safely removed by a dental professional.
How Do Dentists Remove Tartar?
Dentists sometimes use special metal scaling tools to remove plaque. Most often, they will use high powered water jet tools to remove plaque as gently as possible. This thin, powerful jet of water cuts through plaque like a saw without damaging the tooth underneath the plaque.
Does Plaque Cause Tooth Decay?
Plaque can begin to cause tooth decay before it even becomes tartar. Once it does become tartar, the situation is harder to manage.
Plaque traps bacteria and acids in its sticky layer, and tartar hardens bacteria to the teeth, allowing them to serve out their nefarious agenda without interruption.
Trapped bacteria in the mouth often leads to bad breath and a dry mouth. Bacteria smell bad. The kitchen reeks if someone forgets to take the garbage out for a while due to the rotting food in the trash can.
If you aren’t properly removing the rotting food from your mouth, your breath may begin to smell like that kitchen trash.
Cavities and Tooth Decay
Bacteria trapped against the teeth will consume the sugars that you eat and excrete them into an extremely acidic substance. This substance sits in your plaque and will begin to erode holes through your enamel, eventually reaching the softer dentin material of your tooth.
Once that bacteria hits the porous dentin, it can begin to burrow a hole all the way into the pulp of your tooth. These holes are called dental caries, or as you probably know them as: cavities.
The damage may not be localized to one spot. Often, trapped bacteria will work to degrade and erode an entire tooth, weakening its structure and spreading infection. A decayed or significantly damaged tooth is a lot more difficult to repair than a cavity. Significant decay often requires removal of the impacted teeth.
This trapped bacteria will work its way between your teeth and your gums. Your gums create small pockets for your teeth. They have a couple millimeters of space. This space can fill up with plaque and eventually tartar if the bacteria makes its way up into the gum line.
Removing your plaque and managing the bacteria on your gums can prevent gingivitis and periodontitis, a serious gum disease.
How Do I Prevent Plaque?
Preventing plaque is a multi-step process that addresses your overall dental hygiene. Every step works in conjunction to preserve the health of your teeth and gums.
Never Forget to Floss
Flossing removes all of the food debris that your toothbrush is incapable of reaching. Your toothbrush is great for the surfaces of your teeth, but it cannot get inside the crevices between them.
If you find flossing to be uncomfortable, try a water flosser. If you simply hate the act of flossing, do it while you’re watching your favorite show or scrolling through social media. The distraction helps make it a little more bearable to thoroughly reach the crevices between each tooth.
Remember the 12 Hour Rule
It only takes plaque 12 hours to form tartar, and there are 24 hours in a day. This is why making time for tooth brushing twice a day is absolutely essential for your oral health.
Even if you haven’t eaten a lot or if you feel as though your mouth is clean, there are still microscopic germs and food particles present. Brushing in the morning and brushing after you’ve finished eating or drinking anything but clean water for the day will keep oral bacteria to a minimum, get rid of plaque, prevent tartar, and keep gum tissue healthy -- tons of benefits for literally just a couple of minutes a day!
Choose a gentle toothpaste full of minerals and tooth strengthening ingredients to ward off tooth decay and repair your enamel (fluoride toothpaste can help but opt for a naturally remineralizing toothpaste if you can). Keeping your teeth strong can help to prevent cavities and tooth decay. Fortifying your tooth enamel will create the first line of defense between your teeth and bacteria.
Remove Harmful Bacteria From Your Mouth
Nearly all toothpastes don’t contain any ingredients to kill bacteria. They rely on helping you scrub them off of your teeth and spit them out when you’re done brushing. If you’re worried about plaque and periodontal disease, this may not be enough.
Mouthwash is typically powered by alcohol. While alcohol does kill germs, it also kills all of the beneficial microorganisms living in your mouth. It destroys the biofilm of healthy bacteria that your body creates to repair and protect your mouth.
Switching to toothpastes and mouthwashes with natural and gentle antibacterial ingredients like nano silver can help to kill oral bacteria without damaging the defenses your body creates to ward off the bad stuff.
Plaque is normal, natural, and inevitable. That doesn’t mean you should allow it to remain inside of your mouth.
Don’t take chances with plaque. Playing fast and loose with your oral care routine can come with consequences that only a dentist can fix.
Make sure you’re attending your dental checkups twice a year to help get rid of that tartar buildup, and use oral care products with science-backed ingredients to protect your teeth and tackle dental plaque in the meantime.