We brush our teeth to get rid of plaque, but daily cleaning doesn’t always get rid of all the buildup on our teeth. If you notice a “fuzzy,” sticky feeling when you run your tongue across your teeth, then you probably have some plaque buildup. Left on the teeth, plaque can harden and turn into tartar. Tartar can irritate the gums, leading to gum disease.
While you can’t avoid plaque and might not be able to fully avoid tartar, you can take steps to keep your teeth clean and your gums healthy. Here’s what you need to know about plaque and tartar–the main causes of tooth decay and gum disease.
What is Plaque?
Everyone gets plaque — a sticky film made up of sugar and bacteria. When you eat or drink something that contains carbohydrates, such as bread, soda, or candy, the bacteria that live in your mouth start eating the carbs and can eventually cause oral health issues if not removed promptly.
Plaque is usually soft, but it can harden into something called tartar, also known as calculus. While plaque is often colorless or yellow, tartar is typically brown. Tartar also absorbs stains easily, making it easier to spot when you open your mouth and look in the mirror.
Why Should You Care About Plaque and Tartar?
If you let them build up, both plaque and tartar can spell trouble for your teeth and gums. Plaque can produce acids that weaken the tooth enamel, leading to cavities.
Plaque can also develop around or beneath the gum line. Plaque on the gums can cause irritation and the early stages of gum disease, known as gingivitis. If the plaque remains on the gums or under the gumline, it can begin attacking the bone, leading to more advanced cases of gum disease.
Left alone in the mouth, plaque hardens into tartar. Tartar on the teeth and at the gum lines gives plaque more room to grow and a surface to thrive on. The texture of tartar can also irritate the soft tissues of the gums, making them more likely to recede.
Can You Prevent Plaque and Tartar Buildup?
Regular teeth cleaning and good oral care are the secrets for keeping plaque and tartar buildup at bay. You can help to reduce the amount of plaque on your teeth by brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day. Seeing your dentist for regular in-office cleanings will also help you to keep plaque under control.
Your diet might also play a role when it comes to managing plaque buildup. Bacteria that naturally live in your mouth tend to have a field day when you eat sugary or starchy foods. One way to control plaque is to “starve” the bacteria by avoiding these foods as much as possible. Reducing the amount of sugary food you eat can help to minimize plaque buildup and reduce your risk of developing cavities. Managing plaque buildup will also reduce or eliminate tartar buildup.
How Can You Remove Plaque and Tartar?
How you remove dental plaque depends on its location. You can remove plaque from the surface of your teeth using a toothbrush and toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste will help to provide additional protection against cavities.
To minimize irritation in the mouth, it’s a good idea to use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Avoid pressing too hard or using a lot of pressure when you brush, as doing so can contribute to receding gums. Some people find that using an electric toothbrush helps them do a more thorough job when brushing their teeth.
If you want to remove plaque that’s underneath the gum line or between the teeth, you’re going to need to floss. Use a piece of floss that’s about 18 inches long. Wrap each end around your fingers, then gently push a short length of it between two teeth. Rub it up and down against the side of each tooth, being careful not to snap it or jerk it.
While brushing and flossing at home is often enough to remove plaque, tartar is a different story. To get rid of tartar, you’ll need to see a dentist for a cleaning. To remove tartar from the teeth and gum line, your dentist will perform scaling, which scrapes the hardened tartar off of the teeth and away from the gums.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also performs teeth cleanings and dental exams. He is always happy to educate patients on plaque and tartar and how to prevent oral health problems. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.