If you've ever missed cleaning your teeth for a day (which is never a good idea!) you'll be familiar with the soft fuzzy feeling of your tongue against your teeth – this means they need attention, ideally right now. That feeling is plaque; but what exactly is plaque, and how can you get rid of it?
Plaque is a Bacterial Biofilm
Made up of mucus, saliva, bacteria and food particles, plaque is a sticky film which is constantly forming in your mouth, adhering to your teeth and gum line.
Why is Plaque Harmful?
The bacteria which thrive in this biofilm produce acids, which over time will destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Left alone, plaque will eventually calcify or harden into yellow-ish tartar. This is unsightly in your smile, and much, much harder to remove than plaque, so it pays to stay on top of the plaque in the first place.
How to Spot Plaque
Because plaque is colourless, it's difficult to see during your normal brushing routine. Fortunately, there are various products available which will help to make the plaque more visible, so that you can brush it away:
1. Disclosing Tablets. People of a certain age will remember these well! You chew a tablet, and the red dye in the tablet reacts with the bacteria to stain areas of plaque bright red. The resulting vampire look is not to everyone's taste, and can be quite alarming for small children. On top of that, the dye can take some time to fade, so this isn't the best option if you're in a real hurry.
2. A less dramatic option is a mouthwash; one popular brand will stain plaque areas blue, for example, and is much easier to brush away completely.
3. New, two stage toothpastes are beginning to emerge. With these, you brush your teeth as normal, and the toothpaste will stain plaque areas green. These green areas can then be brushed away with water, with no further toothpaste necessary - a good option for helping children in particular to develop good brushing techniques.
How to Minimize the Build Up of Plaque
Everyone has some plaque, but there are a few things you can do which will help keep it to a minimum.
- Brush twice a day, paying particular attention to the gum line and any gaps in teeth.
- Floss once a day, to remove food particles from between teeth.
- Use a disclosing product occasionally, to check that your dental hygiene routine is up to scratch.
- Limit snacks between meals, and try to avoid sugary snacks where possible.
- An antibacterial mouthwash can help to keep bacteria in check.
- Keep your routine six monthly dental appointments, to have your teeth checked and professionally cleaned.
Fighting and removing plaque through good brushing habits is an essential step in maintaining oral hygiene. It's important to play your part of course; don't just think you can leave it all up to your dentist!