Why Are Plaque and Tartar So Bad for Your Oral Health?
Most of us have grown up hearing about how you should brush your teeth after every meal and floss daily. But why exactly is that so important to your oral health? Because skipping those essentials of good tooth care opens the door to the bad guys of oral health, plaque and tartar. This deadly duo combines to cause gum disease, tooth decay, and unsightly staining of your teeth if not detected and taken care of early.
What is Plaque?
Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria and sugars that constantly forms on our teeth. It is the main cause of cavities and gum disease, and can harden into tartar if not removed daily. Everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly forming in our mouths. These bacteria use ingredients found in our diet and saliva to grow. Plaque causes cavities when the acids from plaque attack teeth after eating. With repeated acid attacks, the tooth enamel can break down and a cavity may form. Plaque that is not removed can also irritate the gums around your teeth, leading to gingivitis (red, swollen, bleeding gums), periodontal disease and tooth loss.
What is Tartar?
Tartar, sometimes called calculus, is plaque that has hardened on your teeth into a mineral. Tartar is fairly easy to see if above the gumline, because it causes a yellow or brown color to teeth or gums. Tartar can also form at and underneath the gumline and can irritate gum tissues. Tartar gives plaque more surface area on which to grow and a much stickier surface to adhere, which can lead to more serious conditions, such as cavities and gum disease.
Not only can tartar threaten the health of your teeth and gums, it is also a cosmetic problem. Because tartar is more porous, it absorbs stains easily. So if you are a coffee or tea drinker, or if you smoke, it is especially important to prevent tartar buildup.
Preventing Plaque and Tartar Buildup
There isn’t much you can do once tartar starts to build up except visit a dentist. However, since plaque becomes tartar, a good regimen of brushing, flossing and watching what you eat can keep plaque from building up and thus prevent the problems of tartar. Personal Care Dentistry recommends the following approach:
Brush thoroughly at least twice a day to remove plaque from all surfaces of your teeth. Use any tooth brushing method that is comfortable, but do not scrub hard back and forth. Small circular motions and short back and forth motions work well. To prevent decay, it’s what’s on the toothbrush that counts. Use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is what protects teeth from decay.
Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gumline, where your toothbrush may not reach. Remember to ease the floss between your teeth. Snapping it into place may damage your gums. The best time to floss is before you go to
Another way of removing plaque between teeth is to use a dental pick a thin plastic or wooden stick. These sticks can be purchased at drug stores and grocery stores.
Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks. Food residues, especially sweets, provide nutrients for the germs that cause tooth decay, as well as those that cause gum disease. So less is better when it comes to sweets.
How Do I Know If I Have Plaque?
Dental plaque is difficult to see unless it’s stained. You can stain plaque by chewing red “disclosing tablets,” found at grocery stores and drug stores, or by using a cotton swab to smear green food coloring on your teeth. The red or green color left on the teeth will show you where there is still plaqueand where you have to brush again to remove it. Stain and examine your teeth regularly to make sure you are removing all plaque.
How Is Tartar Removed by a Dentist?
Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it. The process for removing tartar is called scaling. During a scaling, the hygienists at Personal Care Dentistry use special instruments to remove tartar from your teeth above and below the gumline.
Sources: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; American Dental Association; Colgate-Palmolive, Inc.