What Is Dental Plaque And How Does It Form?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Ever wonder why your dentist insists that you floss and brush daily? It’s not just to keep your teeth white or to keep your breath fresh – it’s mainly about avoiding the buildup of plaque on your teeth. Dental plaque is the leading cause of tooth decay, so it’s important to understand how it forms and the ways in which it can be prevented. In this article, you’ll learn the main causes of dental plaque along with any possible complications it may cause.

How Dental Plaque Forms

Dental plaque is a soft, sticky film of bacteria that can form on the surface of the teeth. Because it is colorless, it is nearly impossible to see dental plaque with the naked eye. However, some people who have dental plaque will notice a “fuzzy” feeling on their teeth when touching their tongue to them.

When someone neglects their dental hygiene, this plaque tends to buildup and adhere to the surface of the teeth. The process of dental plaque buildup may also be triggered by eating lots of foods with sugars or starches, which are more likely to cause damage to the teeth when proper dental hygiene steps are not taken. Examples of these foods include soft drinks, candy, cakes and milk.

Prevention And Treatment

Dental plaque develops on many people’s teeth, so it is not an uncommon condition. However, it is important to take steps to make sure that this plaque is continually cleared off in order to preserve the health of your teeth. The following are some steps that you can take to help prevent the development of dental plaque in your mouth:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. It is best to brush for at least two minutes each time. The best times to brush are just before eating or at least an hour after eating. Although manual brushing is sufficient, powered toothbrushes with rotation-oscillation action are highly recommended for removing plaque efficiently. Use a fluoride toothpaste for the best results.
  • Floss at least once per day. Many dentists recommend flossing more than once per day if at all possible. The best time to floss is just after brushing in order to efficiently remove bacteria and food particles from the spaces between the teeth.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This requires eating limited amounts of starches and sugars so as to protect your teeth while also keeping you healthy.
  • Limit between-meal snacks. Eating often throughout the day may increase the chances of plaque buildup on your teeth. If you do eat between meals, try to avoid sugary and starchy snacks, drink plenty of water and consider brushing and flossing afterwards to remove food particles and bacteria from your teeth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Many dentists recommend bi-annual exams to provide thorough teeth cleaning and to ensure that your teeth stay healthy and strong.
  • Ask about dental sealants. Some dentists will apply a protective plastic coating to the teeth called a sealant. These coverings are typically applied towards the back of the mouth where most chewing occurs and where decay often begins.

By following the steps above, most people can avoid dental plaque buildup. However, there are some treatments available for when dental plaque does form. The first step that most dentists take to treat dental plaque is to provide the teeth with a thorough cleaning. This may be somewhat uncomfortable or painful for the patient if a significant amount of plaque has been able to build up on the teeth. After this step, some dentists will advise the patient to use an antiseptic mouthwash, toothpaste, gel or spray to help kill the bacteria in the mouth and avoid further damage to the teeth.

Possible Complications

Although dental plaque regularly forms on the teeth’s surface, it can become problematic when it is not regularly cleared away by brushing and flossing. In fact, dental plaque is the leading cause of tooth decay and gingivitis, a gum disease. These conditions may develop when a person continues to eat sugary and starchy foods despite the fact that they have dental plaque. This causes the bacteria in the plaque to produce acids which destroy tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay. As this process continues, plaque can even start to form under the gums or on the roots of the teeth, leading to gingivitis and/or the breakdown of the bones that support the teeth.

Because the complications of dental plaque can be serious, it is important to follow the dental hygiene recommendation given to you by your dentist. For most individuals, that includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day and making visits to the dentist at least twice per year. Ask your dentist if you have any concerns regarding dental plaque and how it can affect your teeth.


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