Dental plaque is a clear, sticky coating of bacteria that forms on the teeth. It develops when bacteria in the mouth react with sugars and starches found in certain foods and drinks.
Plaque can be removed with regular toothbrushing and flossing. But if it's left on the teeth, plaque can build up and attack the tooth's outer layer (enamel), leading to dental issues like tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
This article discusses how dental plaque develops on the teeth and how to prevent plaque buildup.
Plaque, a clear, sticky film on the teeth, plays a significant role in tooth decay. It forms from a combination of bacteria, saliva, sugars, and starches in the mouth.
The process starts when you consume carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks, such as milk, juice, soft drinks, bread, chips, pasta, fruit, and candy. Once the food and drink particles come into contact with bacteria in the mouth, plaque is created and acids are produced. If you don’t brush your teeth soon after eating or drinking, the acids will start to eat away at the tooth's enamel.
Plaque that is not routinely removed through twice-daily toothbrushing and flossing can start to build up and harden into a substance known as tartar. Tartar can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist. All of this can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. Left untreated, this can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss.
Plaque forms as a result of natural reactions between bacteria, saliva, and carbohydrates in your mouth. If you brush and floss your teeth regularly to remove it, plaque usually isn't a concern. But when it stays on the teeth, plaque can build up and harden, causing tooth decay and gum disease.
Plaque is constantly forming on the teeth, so everyone has some amount of plaque in their mouth. It needs to be regularly removed, because a buildup of plaque can cause dental health issues like tooth decay and gum disease.
But since plaque isn't easily visible, it's hard to tell if your teeth are coated with too much. Some signs that may indicate too much plaque has formed in your mouth are:
To confirm any suspicions that too much plaque has built up, a few options include:
Plaque is going to form naturally, but there are a few proactive steps you can take to help prevent plaque buildup and protect your teeth, including:
If dental insurance is not accessible to you, there are federally funded community health departments that offer low-cost or free dental care across the country. You can search for a nearby location using the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) website.
For another source of low-cost preventive dental care, you might consider checking out the American Dental Association (ADA) or the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) for nearby dental colleges or dental hygiene schools.
Dental plaque is a clear, sticky substance that forms on the teeth as a reaction to bacteria in the mouth combined with carbohydrates from food and drink. Plaque can be removed with daily toothbrushing and flossing, but if it's left on the teeth, it can attack the tooth's enamel and lead to cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Limiting sugar and starch in your diet and visiting the dentist regularly can help prevent plaque buildup, protecting your teeth and oral health.
Everyone gets plaque on their teeth, so don't worry too much if you've recently overindulged in desserts and junk foods, or skipped a night of flossing. As long as you make a habit out of brushing and flossing twice a day, eating a mostly healthy diet, and visiting the dentist regularly, you should be able to keep plaque buildup to a minimum.
Keep in mind that oral health affects your overall health, so don't hesitate to ask a dental professional or other healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about plaque or accessing routine dental care.
Yes. Everyone has dental plaque, and it’s usually not a big problem unless it builds up. People who may be more likely to get frequent plaque buildup include:
Tartar (also known as calculus) is a hardened version of plaque that can only be removed by a dentist. Tartar builds up when plaque isn’t adequately removed through regular toothbrushing, flossing, and dental check-ups. When tartar builds up, it can lead to gum disease, which causes sore, bleeding gums, painful chewing issues, and sometimes tooth loss. Roughly 1 in 10 people have a tendency to accumulate tartar quickly.
Plaque scraping should always be performed by a dental hygienist or a dentist, but you can safely and gently remove plaque from your own teeth at home by using a toothbrush, toothpaste, and thorough flossing. Visit your dentist twice a year, if possible, for help professionally removing any remaining plaque or tartar.