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What is Dental Plaque? How Can I Get Rid Of It?

Every one of us has to deal with dental plaque. The sticky film results from bacteria in the mouth combining with sugar or starch-rich foods; dental plaque forms on our teeth daily. And after we consume any food or beverage, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that can potentially destroy tooth enamel and lead to cavities and gingivitis -- more commonly known as gum disease. Furthermore, plaque can also build-up beneath the gums on the roots of our teeth, harming or weakening the bones that serve to support them.

If left untreated, plaque can harden into tartar, which may be incredibly challenging to remove. Nevertheless, by maintaining proper dental hygiene through thoroughly brushing and flossing each day, one can get rid of plaque.

Is Plaque Common?

Each individual will encounter dental plaque in varying degrees. However, increasing amounts of plaque may develop in patients who

  • Experience dry mouth as a result of conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome or medications like antidepressants.
  • Have previously undergone head or neck radiation.
  • Regularly consume sugar or starch-rich foods and drinks in excess.
  • Using a nightguard to protect your crown and any surrounding teeth if you clench or grind your teeth in the evenings.

What Causes Plaque?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “plaque forms when bacteria in your mouth mix with sugary or starchy foods, such as milk, juice, soft drinks, bread, pasta, and fruit.” This bacteria releases acids that, in turn, break down the carbohydrates found in what we eat and drink. Failing to promptly brush your teeth following your consumption of any food or drink will cause these bacteria to combine with the acids and carbohydrates, forming the sticky, colorless film we know to be plaque.

Symptoms and Complications Associated with Plaque

One of the most prevalent plaque indicators is a fuzzy feeling on the teeth when your tongue runs over them. Additional symptoms might include:

  • Gum disease, characterized by red, swollen, sensitive gums that bleed as a result of brushing.
  • Halitosis (chronic bad breath).

Moreover, without proper brushing and flossing daily, plaque can harden, transforming into hard-to-eliminate tartar, which can only be removed by a dental professional. Plaque and tartar may result in:

  • Abscessed tooth (tooth infection).
  • Acute gum infection (periodontitis).
  • Cavities.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis or periodontal disease).
  • Tooth decay or loss.

How to Treat Plaque

Usually spotted by a dentist during an oral examination using a small mirror, plaque can be removed by regularly brushing and flossing your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush. However, some dentists suggest electric toothbrushes, believing them to be more effective for plaque removal. Furthermore, toothpaste that contains baking soda has also proven to rid teeth of plaque effectively.

Regardless, only a dental professional can remove plaque that has hardened into tartar. And as tartar tends to accumulate in difficult-to-reach places, it is critical to routinely visit a dentist twice yearly to maintain good dental health. At your regular cleaning or dental checkup, your dentist or oral hygienist will be able to eliminate any tartar built up on your teeth.

How to Avoid Plaque

Cleaning your teeth every day will allow you to avoid plaque and its resulting harm to your teeth and gums. By brushing twice daily for two minutes and after consuming sugar-rich foods, you can rid your mouth of plaque and steer clear of tartar.

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