Have you ever wondered what exactly you’re doing when you brush your teeth? What are you cleaning off, if there's no visible food residue? Does brushing daily really make such a big difference? The biggest problem that’s alleviated by brushing is the thin layer of film called plaque that develops over time and wears away at your teeth. While brushing regularly reduces this plaque buildup, some amount of the sticky colorless film will always continue to grow. Plaque starts to worsen about 4 to 12 hours after brushing. This is why it’s so important to take good care of your teeth and brush them twice a day. You should also go to your dental checkups every 6 months, so your dentist can give your teeth a more thorough cleaning.
So what exactly is plaque, and how can you prevent it from building up in your mouth? Let’s take a closer look at this annoying substance and go over the best ways to combat it:
What is Plaque?
As mentioned above, plaque is a thin, sticky layer that coats your teeth. It often appears as a colorless film but sometimes can have a yellowish tint. Plaque is caused by bacteria that thrive in our mouths by feeding off of the foods and drinks we consume. When the bacteria, saliva, and food particles combine, they create a sticky film on your teeth. If not cleared away daily, plaque will turn the sugars you eat into acids that will wear away at the enamel on your teeth. Once the enamel has worn away into cavities, it can’t be fixed without drilling and fillings. This is why good oral hygiene is so important.
How Harmful is Plaque?
If the plaque buildup is not removed from your teeth daily with good brushing habits, it will form into tarter. This substance is tougher than plaque and is much more difficult to brush and floss off of your teeth, as it collects and hardens at the gum line. As the tarter, plaque, and bacterial buildups continue to increase, they can cause your gums to redden and become sensitive.
If you let plaque and tartar buildups linger even longer, they will develop into worse problems down the line. You might end up with swollen and bleeding gums. These sensitive gums can progress into gingivitis, which is an early stage of periodontal disease. If left to its own devices, periodontal disease will ultimately lead to the bones in and around the mouth deteriorating and eventually to tooth loss. These problems come with a lot of pain and are increasingly expensive to fix.
Fighting Against Plaque
It can be hard to fight against plaque, since it starts as a thin, colorless film. If left for too long, plaque might form into white deposits on your teeth and gums that often look like stuck food. Although this makes it easier to see the plaque, you don’t actually want it to get to that point. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure that plaque buildup in your mouth is minimal:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Make sure you reach all possible tooth surfaces while brushing. This removes the plaque film from the tooth surfaces and helps fight against tooth decay all around.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid snacking throughout the day. Snacking and drinking sugary beverages between meals increases the time that sugar touches your teeth, allowing the plaque to build up more quickly.
- Clean between your teeth daily using a good dental floss, since this sticky substance can latch on in between your teeth and ultimately build up at your gum line out of reach of a normal toothbrush.
- Mouthwash alone is not enough to combat plaque, as it doesn’t completely remove this sticky substance. Brushing needs to be done every day, twice a day to ensue that you are getting that thin film off of your teeth.
- Visit your dentist regularly. This helps ensure that you’re keeping up with good oral hygiene habits at home and allows you to catch any dental issues early, before they become bigger problems.
- Ask your dentist for tooth brushing and flossing tips, and follow them for the best results in dental hygiene.
Plaque is not something that can be totally avoided, since it begins to build up after every brushing. However, it is something that can easily be managed so it doesn’t develop into something much worse. By making sure you have good oral hygiene habits, you can keep that thin film at bay and prevent gum disease and other oral health issues in the future. Visit your dentist every 6 months and keep your oral health on the right track by removing that plaque!