When children first learn about dentists, teeth, and the importance of brushing and flossing, they might view plaque as an evil villain of sorts. Although colorless at first (in disguise, you might say), it can form into brown or yellowish tartar if you aren’t careful. Plus, this bacterial miscreant clings to the teeth and other surfaces of the mouth, causing tooth decay and periodontal issues (such as gingivitis and periodontitis). Although sneaky and easy to overlook, plaque can harm the health of your mouth if you neglect your oral hygiene. So you might be wondering: what causes plaque? More importantly, how can you prevent its formation?
What Causes Plaque?
Have you ever noticed that your teeth feel somewhat “fuzzy” if you haven’t brushed them in a while? This is due to plaque, a soft, sticky, and colorless film of bacteria. So what causes plaque?
First, a combination of bacteria and glycoprotein known as a pellicle forms on the tooth surface. The pellicle is generally harmless and nearly invisible. At this stage, it can easily be removed by brushing and flossing. As the hours pass by, however, this plaque will thicken and become gooier. It will contain colonies of germs and microorganisms as well.
If left long enough, the plaque will mineralize, hardening into tartar by absorbing minerals in the saliva. Tartar can cause gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) in which the gums are red, swollen, tender, and sometimes bleed. Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed through regular brushing and flossing. You will need the help of a dentist or dental hygienist to get rid of it.
In addition, did you know that a lot of the food we eat and the beverages we drink remain in our mouths after meals? Our mouths’ bacteria thrive on these scraps (especially sugars and carbohydrates) and use them to produce acids that destroy tooth enamel. If this happens repeatedly, the enamel may break down, causing a cavity to form in the tooth’s surface.
Now that you can answer the question, “What causes plaque?”, you need to learn how to prevent it.
How Can You Prevent Plaque Formation?
Although plaque is normal and forms in every mouth, it is also dangerous if left untreated. Our actions and habits have a profound affect on plaque’s development and severity; so if you want to stop plaque in its tracks, use the tips below.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day. You know the drill! Once in the morning and once at night (or perhaps after every meal), brush your teeth thoroughly using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Remember to brush your gums, tongue, and the inside of your cheeks as well. The entire process should take at least two minutes. Not only will brushing your teeth remove plaque, but also it will improve your breath and your teeth’s texture and appearance.
Floss at least once a day. To clean between your teeth, floss once or twice a day. This will allow you to remove the plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach. Although often neglected, flossing is essential to the prevention of gum disease and can be completed in just a minute or two. Plus, if you have a tough time using floss, you can try interdental brushes, flossing aides, or air-flossing or water-flossing devices. Ask your dentist or hygienist for tips if you’re interested in these alternative flossing tools.
Use mouthwash. Although not as crucial as brushing or flossing, a mouthwash can also help prevent the buildup of plaque. Be sure to use an antibacterial mouthwash and thoroughly swish the rinse around your mouth, following the instructions on the bottle. Although mouthwash can reduce oral bacteria and prevent gum disease, it should not be used in place of brushing or flossing.
Eat a balanced diet and limit your sugar intake. Sugar and other carbohydrates are often targeted by the bacteria in plaque to form decay-causing acids. To limit this, eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables and whole grains. In addition, avoid sticky foods that will cling to your teeth like candy, granola bars, caramel, and raisins, and limit your intake of sweets and in-between-meals snacks. If you do need a snack, try a nutritious option like raw veggies, fruit, nuts, or plain yogurt.
Use a rinsing tablet. Plaque is difficult to see, especially in its early stages. Although you may notice plaque when it becomes harder and slightly brown or yellow, how can you be sure that what you’re seeing is plaque? To pinpoint the formation of plaque and gain a greater awareness of its presence, try using a rinsing tablet. Available at your local pharmacy, plaque-rinsing tablets temporarily stain the plaque on the surface of your teeth. To remove the stains, simply brush and floss. Rinsing tablets are especially useful when teaching young children about oral hygiene, as they provide a fun and colorful visual aide.
Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and oral exam. Although cleaning your teeth properly at home is tremendously important, you still need to stop by your dentist’s office every six months or so. First of all, a professional cleaning by a trained dental hygienist will remove any plaque and tartar you might have missed. Next, your dentist can spot tooth decay and cavities during the oral examination and provide treatment. Finally, your dentist and/or hygienist may recommend that you adjust your brushing technique, increase your flossing, or otherwise change your oral hygiene habits to prevent the formation of plaque in the future.
So what causes plaque? Bacteria in the mouth. And if left to fester, plaque can turn into tartar, which can turn into tooth decay or gingivitis, which can cause cavities or gum disease, which are certainly nothing to smile about. The good news is that plaque can easily be defeated with some basic oral hygiene. Simply brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day, floss daily, eat a nutritious diet, and schedule regular appointments with your dentist. It’s as easy as that!
Looking for a new dentist? Contact Wilkinson Dental if you live in or near Springfield, Missouri. You can request an appointment online or give us a call at 417-882-8222. We look forward to hearing from you!