Tooth Terminology: What Exactly is Plaque?

Dirty yellow tooth. vector cartoon design .

Plaque: you’ve probably heard your dentist use this term, but you might not have fully understood what it means or how it affects your smile. You may know that you don’t want to have plaque on your teeth, but why? At our Houston dental practice, Dr. Cindy Flanagan and our team put an emphasis on educating our patients about their oral heath. The more you know about your smile, the better you can take care of it. Watching out for and removing plaque is probably the single most important thing you can do for your oral health. That’s why we’ve devoted the following blog to defining this important piece of “tooth terminology.” Read on to find out exactly what plaque is, how it affects your mouth, and what you can do to combat it.

Plaque Defined

Let’s begin with the basics. LiveScience explains: “dental plaque is a sticky, clear film that forms on teeth and between teeth, both above and below the gum line.” One dentist quoted by LiveScience describes plaque as a substance that “makes the teeth feel rough and slimy…it feels like the teeth have ‘sweaters’ on them.” Fundamentally, plaque is a material that coats your teeth. But what is it made of? On a technical level, plaque is “a microbial biofilm, a community of microorganisms found on a tooth surface.” This means that plaque has a diverse set of particles and its own particular bacterial growths. Simply put, plaque has four main ingredients: “bacteria, carbohydrates, food particles, and saliva.”

How It Hurts Your Mouth

Why is this unique combination of food debris, carbohydrates, spit, and bacteria considered such a problem? According to WebMD, “plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as milk, soft drinks, raisins, cakes, or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result.” The carbohydrates and food particles you fail to clean off of your teeth get stuck there along with saliva, creating a nice, cozy home for bacteria.

While this may be a great environment for these microorganisms, the bacteria plaque attracts can be quite harmful to you. WebMD goes on to explain: “over a period oftime, these acids [produced by the bacteria feeding on your plaque] destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause breakdown of the bone supporting the teeth.” Thus, plaque is the primary factor in most oral health issues, from cavities to gum disease.

Protecting Your Smile From Plaque

Now that you know this enemy, what can you do to keep plaque at bay? There are quite a few proactive steps you can take to keep your teeth and gums relatively plaque-free, including:

·      Preventive care appointments. At least twice per year, you should see Dr. Flanagan for a cleaning and examination. During this visit, we will assess your mouth for plaque and other issues, in addition to thoroughly cleaning your teeth. We will also offer our tips for keeping your teeth and gums clean at home.

·      Rigorous oral hygiene. Plaque can only form when carbohydrates and food debris remain on your teeth and gums after you eat. Brushing your teeth after each meal, or at least twice per day, can help you ward off plaque. It is also important to floss daily in order to remove plaque from between the teeth and beneath the gums.

·      Dietary habits. Paying closer attention to what you eat can also help you defend your smile against the dangers of plaque. Carbohydrate-heavy, sugary, sticky foods are more likely to form a sticky film on the teeth. Cutting down on these snacks could help reduce plaque formation. Drinking plenty of water during and after meals can also help fight off plaque.

Following these suggestions could help you avoid the harmful effects of plaque. However, if the bacteria and acid erosion resulting from plaque has already damaged your teeth, Dr. Flanagan and our team can provide restorative treatment. For example, if plaque formation has resulted in cavities, we can place tooth-colored fillings or dental crowns to repair them.

Do You Want to Learn More About Plaque?

Dr. Flanagan and our team would be delighted to teach you more about plaque so you can take charge of your smile! Contact our Houston dental practice today to schedule an appointment.

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