How does plaque affect my teeth and gums?

Plaque is the bacteria in your mouth that sticks to your teeth. Left on your teeth, it can lead to cavities and gingivitis. The plaque use sugars in your diet to produce acids. These acids can eat into the tooth, causing a cavity. The bacteria and acid also irritate the gum, causing gingivitis. Proper brushing and flossing can help remove plaque. See your dentist for regular cleanings.
Carol Jahn

Plaque is composed of bacteria, which has the potential to produce both acids causing tooth decay and toxins that irritate the gums and cause inflammation and bleeding, called gingivitis. The best defense against the adverse effects of plaque is daily brushing and interdental cleaning with a product like a Water Flosser, interproximal brush, or dental floss.

Plaque is the accumulation of Bacteria and Bacterial by-products that make it a sticky film on your teeth. If it is not brushed away on a daily basis then it can cause your gums to get inflamed and your teeth to get cavities. When your gums get inflamed, they get red and swollen and bleed easily. This is called Gingivitis. If the plaque remains then it can harden from the minerals in your saliva and turn into Tartar or Calculus. Once it is hard then a toothbrush can no longer be effective in removing it. Special Instruments by the Dentist or Hygienist need to be used to remove it. If Gingivitis continues then the gums can begin to detach from the underlying tooth surface and now the plaque and Tartar continue to form below the gum line and lead to bone loss. Once there is detachment and bone loss it is called Periodontitis. When the plaque and Tartar form below the gum line it is much harder to reach and brush away. If the Periodontitis is left untreated, then over time, the teeth can eventually become loose. Once there is no bone support then the teeth must be taken out. See your dentist regularly for preventive care and early detection and treatment.

Plaque can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums if you don't remove it with regular, daily tooth brushing and flossing. Plaque is a sticky, invisible film that forms on teeth after you eat. Plaque is full of bacteria, which release acid that destroy a tooth's enamel, or protective coating. The damage to your enamel eventually causes tooth decay. Over time, plaque can harden into a substance called calculus or tartar. When tartar collects on the gum line, it can cause mild inflammation known as gingivitis. Without proper care and treatment, gingivitis can develop into a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis, which damages the gums and can cause tooth loss.
Plaque is a mixture of bacteria and saliva. It is soft for the first 24 hours and then calcifies. When soft, the active bacteria will turn food into acid, which will eat a hole in the tooth forming a cavity.

After 24 hours, when hardened, it becomes an irritant to the gum tissue and the body responds to it by sending blood to the area to try to break it down, as it would with a splinter. The difference is that a splinter is in the body, so they body can heal itself. The hardened plaque( calculus) is between the tooth and the gum -- more like a pebble in your shoe. Since the body can't break it down, it retreats from it as it is both a chemical and mechanical irritant, by resorbing the gum and bone that hold the tooth in the jaw. This could eventually lead to the loss of the tooth.
Sally J. Cram, DDS
Plaque is made up of bacteria. Think of your gums as a turtle neck collar surrounding each of your teeth.  When plaque builds up around and under that collar of gum tissue, it causes inflammation and infection within 24-48 hours. This can result in red, bleeding, swollen gums -- the first signs of a problem. In the early stages, this infection is called gingivitis and is usually reversible with a thorough cleaning by the dentist and good daily oral hygiene. However, left untreated the infection spreads to the bone surrounding the root of the tooth (periodontal disease) and can lead to the need for more serious intervention and possible gum surgery. Without any treatment, the tooth may eventually be lost. Your best insurance against periodontal problems is routine check-ups and cleanings with your dentist, as well as good daily flossing and brushing habits. For tips on how to care for your teeth, ask your dentist or go to the American Dental Association's web site at
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Plaque is a smile’s number one enemy. If plaque isn't diligently brushed or flossed away, it can cause everything from enamel breakdown to gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that covers teeth. After you eat, the bacteria release acids that attack tooth enamel. And if you eat sugary foods without cleaning well afterwards, plaque thrives on that sugar. The more sugar you eat, the greater amount of acid is produced in your mouth. As soon as it accumulates, acids will start to break the enamel down, de-mineralizing its protective coating and encouraging cavities to form.

When plaque stays on teeth, it begins to harden. Long-term plaque eventually turns into calculus, or its more common term, tartar. At this point, brushing and cleaning between teeth becomes more difficult because tartar accumulates and hardens above the gum line. This means the more your dental hygienist scrapes away on your teeth at the edges of your gums, the more plaque has stiffened into stubborn tartar.

Once plaque attacks the gums, gingivitis sets in and inflames them, causing them to redden and swell and bleed. Since plaque doesn't stay still, it can creep below the gum line, and once it's there, it causes the gums to separate from the teeth. This sets the stage for eventual bone loss and tooth loss.

If you could feel the damage plaque does to your teeth and gums, you would never forget to forget to floss. In this video, dentist and prosthodontist Dr. Jonathan B. Levine discusses the silent but far-reaching damage plaque can do.
Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

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Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

Renowned dentist and creator of the GoSMILE product line Dr. Levine offers this complete guide to getting a whiter, brighter smile. 15 photos & illustrations.

Continue Learning about Cavities


Cavities are tiny holes in your teeth that have developed from decay. Left untreated, cavities will get larger, and can cause toothache and possible loss of teeth. Anybody can get a cavity, but you put yourself at greater risk if ...

you don't brush regularly, or frequently consume sweets or sugary drinks. Your dentist can help prevent cavities with fluoride treatments, and can find them by taking pictures (X-rays) of the teeth. Once found, the dentist may treat your cavity with a filling or if extensive, with a crown. If there has been an extensive infection, other treatments, including antibiotics or a root canal surgery may be indicated.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.