What is dental plaque?

Jonathan B. Levine, DMD

Why do we have dental plaque? In this video, dentist and prosthodontist Dr. Jonathan B. Levine explains the unrecognized benefits of the yucky film on your teeth -- and why you must get rid of it anyway.

Plaque is the bacteria in your mouth that sticks to the teeth. It makes acid which can cause cavities and gingivitis. It can be removed by proper brushing and flossing of your teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar and calculus which must be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
Dental Plaque is actually an unhealthy expression of a naturally occurring biofilm (a complex community of bacteria) that can be found throughout your body from your lungs and digestive tract to your skin, hair and surface of your eyes. What we have come to call dentla plaque, results from an imbalance of the oral biofilm. Rather than using the "scorched earth" policy to eradicate plaque in the mouth, we are now recognizing the important protective role the oral biofilm plays and exploring ways to promote a healthy balanced state. In this state the unhealthy and inflammative properties of dental plaque are not evident and the oral immune system functions with much higher competence.
Peggy Rosen
Plaque is a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus, and food debris that adheres to the tooth and root surfaces. When calcium in food and saliva combines with plaque, it turns into hard deposit called calculus or tartar.
Your teeth are covered with a sticky film called plaque that can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque contains bacteria, which following a meal or snack can release acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in cavities. Plaque that is not removed with thorough daily brushing and cleaning between teeth can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. This makes it more difficult  to keep your teeth clean. When tartar collects above the gum line, the gum tissue can become swollen and may bleed. This is called gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease. You can prevent plaque buildup by regularly visiting the dentist, brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth with dental floss daily.
Dental plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on your teeth between brushings. Certain bacteria within dental plaque, such as Streptococcus mutans, feed on the sugar from your diet and  release acids that dissolve your tooth's outer layers. Diabetics avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugars but still tend to have more dental complications than people without diabetes.

It is very important to remove plaque regularly after meals by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily. If you regularly leave plaque behind the bacteria can digest sugars and release acids which remove mineral from   the tooth enamel and eventually form holes (cavities) in your teeth. Routine visits to your dentist are important, because only a dentist can detect cavities and repair them. A dentist can also detect early lesions before a cavity forms and can help you to improve your oral hygiene and advise on the use of fluoride toothpaste and mouthrinse and other fluoride products to help reverse the early damage and prevent it from progressing to a cavity.

Plaque builds up and hardens over time to form tartar. Tartar can cause problems in places that are hard to see and reach, like under your gumline. Here it can cause inflammation (gum disease) which if left untreated may lead to periodontitis, a more serious form of periodontal disease and eventually even tooth loss.
Dentists and hygienists can remove tartar.

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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.