Dental plaque isn’t something you can completely avoid, but there are ways to get rid of it. This sticky coating occurs in everyone’s mouth, coming from the foods we eat. Plaque builds up over time and raises your risk of having tooth decay or other dental problems, so it’s important to learn more about it, including how to eliminate it. Keep the following information about dental plaque in mind for a future filled with healthy teeth and gums.

What is dental plaque?

Dental plaque is a biofilm or coating that regularly covers your teeth. This coating is made up of microbes that can grow and thrive if they’re not removed. Over time, plaque buildup on your teeth can turn into calculus (or tartar), which is much more difficult to remove. You’ll need to see a dentist to have tartar removed. The accumulation of plaque and tartar can lead to a higher risk of developing tooth decay, gum inflammation, gingivitis, and other dental problems.

What causes dental plaque?

Dental plaque forms when bacteria accumulate on your teeth. This clear, sticky coating can end up covering many surfaces of your teeth, resulting in tooth decay and gum disease. The foods you eat play a big role in how dental plaque forms. When you eat foods that are sugary or starchy, such as carbohydrates, food particles can stick to your teeth or become lodged between them. Bacteria feed on these particles and produce acids, which can cause your tooth enamel to erode. Tooth enamel protects your teeth, so this erosion leaves you more vulnerable to developing decay.

When you lose tooth enamel as dental plaque builds up, your teeth can become more sensitive to cold, heat, and other sensations. The buildup of plaque and the loss of tooth enamel can also lead to gum inflammation and gum disease, especially as tartar forms. Without treatment, these gum problems can raise your risk of tooth loss. Understanding what causes dental plaque can help you work on preventing it from building up.

Keep in mind that certain risk factors can also raise your risk of having more plaque buildup, such as eating a diet that’s high in starchy and sugary foods. Other risk factors include having a dry mouth, which can happen when you take certain medications or have underlying medical conditions. Smoking can also lead to a higher risk of having plaque accumulate.

How you can get rid of dental plaque?

Knowing how to get rid of dental plaque is an important part of keeping your teeth and gums in good shape. You can get rid of this sticky substance when you brush and floss your teeth daily. Brushing and flossing help remove particles of food that attract the bacteria that form plaque. You should brush and floss at least twice a day, or more, to keep your teeth and gums as clean and free of food particles as possible. Brushing removes food debris from the surfaces of your teeth, while flossing removes food particles that get stuck between your teeth. Make sure you brush thoroughly and clean surfaces that are harder to reach, such as the grooves in your molars. Bacteria can easily build upon these surfaces if they’re covered in sugars or starches.

You can keep plaque to a minimum with good dental hygiene, but dental cleanings are still needed to eliminate plaque and tartar buildup. You should have professional dental cleanings done twice a year to help your teeth and gums stay healthy. During these visits, dental assistants thoroughly remove plaque and tartar, which helps reduce your risk of tooth decay, gum problems, and other dental issues. These visits also allow your dentist to see if you have any tooth or gum problems, such as cavities that require prompt treatment.

Watching what you eat can also help you avoid having plaque buildup on your teeth and gums. Limit or avoid foods containing starch or sugar, such as cookies and other baked goods, since these types of foods attract more bacteria. A larger number of bacteria on your teeth make it easy for plaque and tartar to build up, resulting in a higher risk of decay. If you do eat starchy or sugary foods, make sure you brush your teeth afterward. This helps get rid of food particles that attract bacteria. Keep in mind that some beverages, such as soda, cover your teeth with sugars that bacteria will feed on. You should also avoid or limit these beverages and brush your teeth after drinking them.

If you’re exploring options for a career in dental health, please contact The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP) to learn about our Dental Assistant Certificate program. We can help you get started on your dental health career.