What is Plaque?

posted by Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS on 9/13/2023 in General

man and woman brushing teeth together in the mirror

Imagine the refreshing feeling you experience after a professional dental cleaning. Minty fresh breath, a brighter smile, and your teeth surfaces free from that fuzzy, slimy sensation. 

But a few days later, the sense of cleanliness fades, and the fuzziness returns. This is thanks to the filmy buildup in your mouth called plaque. Learn more about this common occurrence, how it forms, and what you can do to prevent and effectively remove it. 

What is Plaque?

It may be surprising to learn plaque, also known as biofilm, develops in your mouth every day. Made from a combination of leftover food particles, saliva, and natural bacteria, this sticky, colorless coating stays on the surface of your teeth, creating that familiar, fuzzy texture. The main culprit of plaque formation is eating sugary and starchy foods, while poor dental hygiene can also cause a concerning buildup on your teeth.

Although you can only feel, and not always see plaque, here are some common symptoms you can be on the lookout for: 

What Happens When Plaque is Left Untreated?

Although plaque is a normal occurrence, it shouldn’t be ignored. When the residue remains on or in between teeth for long periods of time, plaque can cause tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis, and advanced stages of gum disease

Often referred to when discussing plaque, tartar is the hardened form of this condition. While plaque is a natural buildup that develops on a daily basis, tartar forms when plaque is left untreated too long. Tartar has a crusty texture and can cause teeth discoloration. Unlike plaque, which can be easily removed by properly brushing your teeth and flossing, tartar’s tough texture needs to be removed by a dental professional with the right equipment.

How to Prevent Plaque 

Fortunately, there are easy steps you can incorporate into your daily routine to lessen the chances of plaque formation. Try the following tips.

  • Limit the amount of sugary and starchy food you eat. Sugar not only leads to cavities, but can also make it easier for plaque to develop. Do your best to limit sugar and starchy foods in your diet. If you do consume these foods, be sure to brush and floss your teeth right after. Eat more well-balanced meals full of protein and calcium both which can help strengthen your teeth. Fruits and vegetables are also good to add to your diet, although as carbohydrates they may contribute to some plaque development. 
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth twice a day, for two minutes, can help prevent and remove plaque. Brushing in between meals is also a good oral hygiene practice as it removes food particles from your teeth and mouth so they don’t combine with saliva and bacteria to form plaque. Flossing and using mouthwash can also help prevent plaque. If you’re unsure if you’re brushing or flossing the right way, ask your dentist to help improve your technique. 
  • Chew sugar-free gum. Studies report sugar-free gum can help prevent plaque because it increases saliva production — which helps keep your teeth clean —  and also does not introduce additional sugar into your mouth. Next time you can’t brush your teeth after a meal, chew sugar-free gum. Keep in mind to select a gum with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, as this signifies the product has met the association's requirements and demonstrated its effectiveness.

3 Ways to Remove Plaque 

  • Brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush. Although a regular toothbrush can assist in removing plaque, an electric toothbrush with its spinning or vibrating toothbrush head is known to be faster and more effective in removing this sticky residue from your teeth. 
  • Try different floss options. You may think there is only one way to floss — using a traditional unwaxed or waxed dental string. But if you have trouble grasping the string, a water flosser is an effective alternative. This dental appliance pulsates water between your teeth and below the gumline to remove food particles. One of the most popular water flosser brands is Waterpik® Water Flossers. If you have questions, your dentist can recommend the right flossing option for you.
  • Visit your dentist every six months. Be consistent with your regular dental checkups. During your appointment, the hygienist or dental assistant will clean your teeth, helping to remove any existing plaque. Your dentist will meticulously examine your teeth, gums, and mouth, looking for potential cavities, decay, and tartar development. 

Combat Plaque With the Help of a Kimball & Beecher Dentist

Concerned about plaque? Make an appointment with a Kimball & Beecher dentist. In addition to receiving a comprehensive teeth cleaning and examination, you’ll learn effective plaque prevention tips. Let us be your partner in fighting plaque.

About The Author

Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS

Dr. Beau Beecher is the founder and CEO, of Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry. Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry is known for being a patient-centered practice that puts comfort and convenience first. Over 50,000 patients in Iowa cities travel miles to experience the high level of ... read more

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