Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
Attack of Dental Plaque
Dental plaque is a colorless, soft buildup of bacteria on your teeth, resulting in a 'fuzzy' feeling on the surface of each tooth. These bacteria become troublesome when they are not properly removed through regular brushing and flossing. What do they do? They feed off the sugar in your food, producing acid in the process. This acid degrades tooth enamel, causing cavities. Multiple layers of plaque can harden, forming tartar. These deposits can cause cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and in extreme cases, tooth loss.
What is Dental Plaque?
Dental plaque is a soft layer of proteins and bacteria (called a biofilm) that accumulate on the surface of teeth in between brushing and flossing. Because teeth do not shed on their own, the body cannot naturally remove plaque on its own, and the bacterial community on the teeth can be the most diverse community found on the body! If you think about it, your skin sheds millions of cells a day, giving germs a one-way ticket off the body, but on your teeth? No such luck. Saliva isn't always enough to sweep the tooth gunk away. If not removed properly, dental plaque begins to harden within 48 hours, forming the hard substance tartar (also called calculus) in 7 to 10 days. This is the stuff your dental hygienist has to chip away at, and it is significantly harder to remove.
Causes of Dental Plaque
Everyone produces plaque, but not all plaque causes gum disease. A combination of electrostatic forces and van der Waals forces cause plaque to adhere (stick) to the tooth's surface. Bacteria may reproduce on the surface of the teeth, increasing in density, compounding the development of plaque (sounds gross, huh?). The mouth provides a favorable environment for the bacteria to thrive. The bacteria ferment the sugar in food, converting the sugars to acids that cause demineralization (decay) of the tooth. The bacteria that make up the plaque are diverse, and some are more prone to causing gum disease than others.
Additionally, plaque-associated gum disease increases with poor oral hygiene habits, smoking, a weakened immune system, and diabetes. Without adequate plaque removal, the gums may become inflamed and diseased (ouch). Mild gingivitis causes the gums to look slightly red and swollen. Moderate gingivitis results in discomfort, pain, and bleeding gums after brushing and flossing. Severe gingivitis, called periodontitis, results in bad breath, bad taste, difficulty eating, and possible tooth loss.
How Do We Get Rid of Dental Plaque?
Regular brushing and flossing is key to removing plaque before it hardens into tartar. You should brush twice a day. Powered toothbrushes may remove plaque better than manual brushes. Flossing removes plaque that can't be reached with a toothbrush and should also be done daily - an added bonus of this is not having to lie to the dental hygienist when he or she asks if you are flossing every day.
Diet can affect plaque formation; eating a well-balanced diet and limiting snacks in between meals can reduce the amount of sugar available to bacteria, lessening plaque production. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings will result in timely treatment if plaque does become problematic. Regular oral exams also detect mild and moderate gingivitis early, both of which are reversible if caught early. Finally, good oral hygiene may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. When gums are inflamed, plaque may enter the blood vessels and travel throughout the body, straining the cardiovascular system.
Dental plaque is caused by improper oral hygiene, allowing bacterial films to accumulate on the surfaces of teeth. Regular brushing and flossing, a proper diet (with low consumption of sugar), and regular oral exams by a dental professional can help prevent the build-up of dental plaque (and tartar), reducing the likelihood of tooth decay and gum disease, such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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