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What Is Dental Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky film that forms on your teeth every day: You know, that slippery/fuzzy coating you feel when you first wake up.

Scientists call plaque a “biofilm” because it’s actually a community of living microbes surrounded by a gluey polymer layer. The sticky coating helps the microbes attach to surfaces in your mouth so they can grow into thriving microcolonies.

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 gumline on the fronts and backs of your teeth. Although an 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?

Your mouth is a thriving ecosystem. Bacteria and other organisms come in when you eat, drink, and breathe. Most of the time, a delicate balance is maintained in your oral ecosystem, but problems can arise when certain strains of bacteria become overabundant.

When you eat carbs and sugary foods and drinks, bacteria feed on the sugars, producing acids in the process. Those acids can cause problems like cavities, gingivitis, and other forms of tooth decay.

Tooth decay from plaque can even happen under your gums where you can’t see it, eating away at the support for your teeth.

How is plaque diagnosed?

Most of the time, plaque is colorless or pale yellow. A dentist can spot plaque on your teeth using a small mirror during an oral examination.

What’s the treatment for plaque?

You can remove plaque by brushing and flossing your teeth regularly with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Some dentists recommend electric toothbrushes because they are believed to be more effective at removing plaque.

A 2019 review of studies Trusted Source showed that using a toothpaste containing baking soda is a good way to get rid of plaque.

Plaque that has hardened into tartar will have to be removed by a dental professional. Your dentist or oral hygienist can remove it when you have a regular dental checkup and cleaning. Because tartar can build up in hard-to-reach places, it’s really important to visit a dentist twice a year to keep it under control.


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