Plaque is a colourless, sticky layer of bacteria, which develops on the teeth. It will be noticed more if teeth have not been brushed and will cause them to feel fuzzy. It is made up of many germs that reside in the mouth and get stuck to teeth. There are different types of plaque, some of which cause gum disease while others cause tooth decay.

What is calculus?

Calculus is plaque that has become hardened and calcified and firmly sticks to the teeth. It is also sometimes known as tartar. In most cases either a dentist or a dental hygienist can only remove it with specialist tools.

How does plaque form?

Plaque starts to form when foods start sticking to the teeth that are high in starches and sugars, such as soft drinks, cakes, sweets and milk. These foods are consumed by bacteria in the mouth, which then produce acids. Over time, these acids cause tooth decay by breaking down tooth enamel. Plaque may sometimes also grow under the gum on the roots of teeth and lead to loss of bone that supports the teeth.

How can I stop plaque from building up?

The most obvious way to stop plaque building up is to ensure that teeth are brushed twice a day, and that a soft, bristled toothbrush with a round tip is used. A toothpaste containing fluoride should be used and special attention should be paid to the point where the teeth and gums meet. You should also floss once every day to get rid of bacteria and food debris. It is important to visit a hygienist or dentist at least twice a year for an overall check-up. You may also benefit from a dental sealant, which is a thin layer of plastic painted onto the tooth’s chewing surface in order to shield them from decay and cavities. Finally, a good way to prevent plaque build-up is to avoid snacking between meals and eat a good, balanced diet. Crunchy vegetables like celery are helpful in removing bits of food and producing saliva to neutralise the acids that cause plaque. Another method of plaque removal is to use a thin stick known as a dental pick to get between the teeth.

Gum Disease

If plaque is allowed to build up it can cause gums to become infected and inflamed. This can lead to either mild gum disease, known as gingivitis, or serious gum disease, also called periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss. Regular, thorough brushing and flossing can prevent this.

How does plaque lead to gum disease?

Although most of us develop plaque at some point, this does not lead to gum disease in all cases. There are different kinds of bacteria in plaque and some are linked to gum disease. If your resistance to bacteria is limited you are more likely to develop gingivitis, followed by periodontitis. Resistance can be affected by a number of things, including smoking, a weak immune system, diabetes or a poor level of oral hygiene.

What are the main symptoms of gum disease?

Mild gingivitis can easily be missed, as the only symptom is a potential swelling and reddening of the gums. If the gingivitis is more moderate, the gums will be noticeably swollen and red, and may bleeds when teeth are being brushed. It is unlikely there will be any pain or discomfort. Periodontitis may not be noticed until a tooth affected by it starts to become loose. If symptoms do develop, they can include a bad taste in the mouth, bad breath, pain, trouble eating, tooth loss and pus forming between the gums and teeth.

How can gum disease be treated?

Mild gingivitis can often be cleared with good oral hygiene, whereas more serious cases may require an antiseptic toothpaste or mouthwash to get rid of bacteria in the mouth. For periodontitis, a dental appointment will be needed to determine what treatment is needed. One possible procedure involves the dentist cleaning an infected pocket next to a tooth and smooth over the surface so the pocket disappears.

How can I find out whether there is plaque on my teeth?

Plaque is hard to detect, but it usually gathers where your tooth meets your gum and looks like a thin white line across the gum line. You can also feel if there is plaque on your teeth. If you run your tongue across your teeth and they feel rough or sticky then there is plaque on them. The best way to see it is to stain it. This can be done either by chewing on disclosing tablets or smearing some green food colouring on teeth with a cotton swab. The colour on the teeth will allow you to see where the plaque is, so you know where to brush to get rid of it. This should be done fairly regularly to ensure you are getting rid of all plaque when you brush.

Further reading:

  • A brief overview of cosmetic dentistry
  • What are the different treatments in cosmetic dentistry
  • Dental caries classification, causes and symptoms
  • Discover what orthodontics and braces can do for you
  • How to overcome dental phobia
  • The real reasons for tooth stains
  • Tips for better looking teeth
  • How Dental bonding can correct the broken gaped or misshapen teeth

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