What Causes Tooth Plaque?

If you've ever had a cavity, you probably have wondered what causes tooth plaque. Read on, because this is what you need to know.

There are a few things in life that are inevitable: death, taxes, and tooth plaque.

If you’ve ever woken in the morning to find an odd feeling on the surface of your teeth, you’re not alone. Tooth plaque affects everyone, regardless of your oral health habits, though it can be an unsettling thing to feel in your mouth.

What causes this issue, and is it something you can avoid? If you’re curious about tooth plaque—and how to maintain healthy teeth for the long-term—here’s what you should know.

What Is Tooth Plaque?

Tooth plaque is a film that forms across the surface of your teeth. Experts call this film a “biofilm,” as it is composed of a layer of organic, living microbes that cling to the surfaces of your teeth. This buildup happens on an ongoing basis throughout the day as more microbes enter your mouth and cling to your teeth.

However, this buildup is more than a minor annoyance. As you eat and drink, this biofilm of microbes will produce acids that can damage the enamel of your teeth, which can in turn cause tooth decay and cavities.

The most common places where plaque will build up in your mouth are on or under your gum line and on the backs of your teeth.

What Causes Tooth Plaque?

Unfortunately, the most common plaque causes are difficult things for us to avoid in our daily lives!

Plaque develops as we eat, drink, and even breathe. Every time you put something into your mouth, you’re ingesting any bacteria clinging to it. This allows more and more bacteria to build up on your teeth and gums over time.

How Common Is Dental Plaque?

Because we’re adding more bacteria to our mouths as we go about our day, dental plaque is something that happens to everyone. It’s impossible to avoid getting plaque on your teeth forever, though there are steps you can take to minimize your risk and remove existing plaque.

How Can You Tell if You Have Tooth Plaque?

In some cases, you may be able to tell that you have a buildup of plaque on your teeth.

The most common sign of plaque is a fuzzy or textured sensation when you run your tongue across the surface of your teeth, or the feeling that you are running your teeth across a thin film. This feeling is most common when waking in the morning, as plaque tends to build up overnight. The larger the plaque buildup, the easier it is to feel.

Once you have a significant plaque buildup, you may notice other signs like bad breath.

Of course, the easiest way to know whether or not you have plaque is to find a dentist who can take a look at your teeth.

During a regular check-up, your dentist can find and remove any plaque or tartar buildups. They can also check for any signs of decay or cavities that have come from an abundance of plaque in your mouth. If needed, they can also offer professional treatments like dental sealants to keep plaque from forming on some parts of your teeth.

What If You Don’t Treat Your Plaque?

If you don’t treat plaque, the buildup will grow worse over time. Eventually, the biofilm will begin to harden into a more durable substance called tartar. This happens over a longer period of time as minerals from your saliva combine with the buildup of plaque in your mouth.

Tartar is harder to remove than plaque. You may be able to get minor tartar out of your mouth through diligent flossing and brushing, but in most cases, you’ll need help from a dental professional.

Additional long-term complications from tartar can include tooth decay, gum disease or gum infection, tooth infection, and tooth loss.

How Can You Avoid Plaque and Tooth Decay?

While it’s impossible to keep all bacteria from entering your mouth, there are a few things you can do to minimize the amount of buildup on your teeth and protect your oral health. Here’s what you should know.

Avoid Poor Oral Habits

There are a few key oral habits to avoid when possible, as these can increase your risk of plaque. First, make sure to avoid sugar-laden drinks and foods, as well as foods that are high in starch. You should also avoid smoking, which can increase your risk of plaque as well as other oral health issues.

Practice Oral Hygiene

When it comes to plaque, good hygiene is your key prevention tool!

As always, you should be brushing your teeth twice per day. Make sure you’re brushing for at least two minutes, and check that you’re doing it the right way. If you know you’ll be consuming sugary or starchy foods or beverages, it’s also a good idea to brush again after your meal.

In addition, don’t forget to floss: this is an essential tactic if you want to remove plaque from between your teeth and at your gum line.

Mouth rinse products can also be a good idea if you want to avoid plaque. In addition to the oral health habits above, rinsing your mouth can help you loosen or remove some of the bacteria clinging to your teeth. Some active ingredients in certain mouthwashes can even help fight plaque and gingivitis.

Take Care of Your Pearly Whites

You’ve only got one set of adult teeth, so it’s important to take good care of them! While there’s no way to avoid tooth plaque altogether, there are plenty of easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of tartar buildup and protect your oral health. Start building better dental health habits today, and be sure to reach out to a dentist for more one-on-one insights into maintaining your pearly whites!

Want more essential tips like these? Our other guides are full of helpful information to help you make the most of your health, so be sure to check them out.

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