What Is Dental Plaque?

Dental plaque is a sticky, colorless, or pale yellow film that is constantly forming on your teeth. When saliva, food, and fluids combine, plaque – which contains bacteria – forms between your teeth and along the gum line.

Dental plaque begins forming on teeth 4-12 hours after brushing, which is why it is so important to brush thoroughly at least twice a day and floss daily.

How Can Plaque on Teeth Affect My Oral Health?

Plaque is the root cause of many oral health issues. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel causing tooth decay. The bacteria in plaque can also cause the early stage of gum disease called gingivitis. Plaque can also contribute to bad breath and can make your teeth look dingy and yellow.

The difference between plaque and tartar

When plaque isn’t regularly removed, it can accumulate minerals from your saliva and harden into an off-white or yellow substance called tartar.

Tartar builds up along your gum line on the fronts and backs of your teeth. Although attentive flossing may dislodge some tartar buildup, you’ll probably need to visit a dentist to rid yourself of all of it

What Causes Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?

Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, soft drinks, or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause the breakdown of the bone supporting the tooth.

Tooth location: Tooth decay most frequently occurs in the back teeth. These teeth have lots of grooves and crannies. Although these grooves are great for helping chew food, they can also collect food particles. These back teeth are also harder to keep clean than smoother and more accessible front teeth. As a result, plaque can build up between these back teeth, and bacteria can thrive, producing an enamel-destroying acid.

Not brushing: If you do not clean your teeth after eating, plaque can build up, eventually eroding the teeth.

Certain foods and drinks: Some foods and drinks are more likely to cause tooth decay. Foods that cling to your teeth, such as milk, honey, table sugar, soda, ice cream, raisins, and other dried fruit, cookies, hard candy, dry cereal, and chips are more likely to cause decay than are foods that are easily washed away by saliva.

Dry mouth: Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva. Saliva has an important role in preventing tooth decay. It washes away food and plaque from your teeth. Minerals found in saliva help repair early tooth decay. Saliva also limits bacterial growth and neutralizes damaging acids in your mouth.

Receding gums: When the gums pull away from the teeth, plaque can form on the roots of teeth. Tooth roots are naturally covered with a coating called cementum, but the cementum is quickly lost when the root surface is exposed. The underlying dentin is softer than enamel and decays more easily.

Frequent snacking or sipping: The amount of sugary snacks you eat is less important than when you eat them. If you frequently snack or sip sodas, acid has more time to attack your teeth and wear them down. These beverages remain on their teeth for hours and cause erosion.

Bottled water: Adding fluoride to public water supplies has helped decrease tooth decay by offering protective minerals for tooth enamel. However, today, many people drink bottled or filtered water that doesn’t contain fluoride. On the other hand, some bottled water may contain added fluoride. Be sure to check ingredient labels on your bottled water.

How Can Plaque Formation Be Prevented?

  • To prevent plaque buildup, brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft, rounded-tip bristled toothbrush. Pay particular attention to space where the gums and teeth meet. Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
  • Floss between teeth at least once a day to remove food particles and bacteria.
  • Use an antibacterial mouth rinse to reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease.
  • See your dentist or oral hygienist every 6 months for a check-up and teeth cleaning.
  • Ask your dentist if a dental sealant is appropriate for you. Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth to protect them from cavities and decay.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit the number of between-meal snacks. If you need a snack, choose nutritious foods such as plain yogurt, cheese, fruit, or raw vegetables. Vegetables, such as celery, help remove food and help saliva neutralize plaque-causing acids.






We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today.