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What exactly is plaque?

We've all heard about dental plaque and generally know what it is, but not many know about its causes and effects and how it is different from tartar.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a sticky, colourless film of bacteria that constantly forms on our teeth and along the gum line. Believe it or not, everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly growing in our mouths and can be hard to see with the naked eye. Plaque that is not removed from around the gum line can cause inflammation and irritation to the gums around your teeth, leading to gingivitis and eventually, periodontitis.

What is tartar?

As plaque forms and is not removed by proper brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar (also known as calculus). Tartar is calcified (hardened) plaque. Unlike plaque, tartar is a mineral buildup that is fairly easy to see. Although plaque can be removed with proper brushing and flossing, tartar can only be removed completely during a professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist.

What causes plaque?

Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as soft drinks, cakes, candy, or even milk are frequently left on the teeth. The bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods and produce acids that can attack the tooth surface as a result. Over time, these acids can destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. It is thus important to maintain proper oral hygiene to ensure that plaque does not buildup.

How can I prevent plaque from building up?

It is easy to prevent plaque buildup with proper oral hygiene and care. Follow these tips!

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day for 2 minutes

  • Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gum line

  • Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks.

  • Rinse your mouth with water after consuming sugary or starchy foods

  • Schedule at least two regular dental visits for professional cleanings each year

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