Dental plaque is the sticky, colorless film of bacteria which builds upon the teeth and along the gum line. Formation of dental plaque is common due to the constant interaction of the teeth with the bacteria and food in the mouth. However, if dental plaque is not removed on a regular basis by brushing and flossing, it can turn into a harder substance called tartar. This increases the risk of dental problems such as cavities or holes and gum disease.
Dental plaque gives a fuzzy feel of the teeth when touched with the tongue. In the more advanced stages it can appear as a white, grayish or yellowish coating on the teeth.
Normally, several bacteria are naturally present in the oral cavity. These bacteria feed on the sugars and the starches in the food particles left on the teeth and release acids. With excess intake of sugar or poor oral hygiene, these bacteria eventually form a film called plaque which usually starts at the gum line and spreads to the teeth.
Consequences of dental plaque
Plaque build-up eventually damages the enamel coating on the teeth and leads to tooth decay. If plaque is not removed regularly, it can enter the pulp of the tooth through the dentin. Plaque retained for prolonged periods can irritate the gums leading to the inflammation of the gum line (medically termed as gingivitis).
Plaque which develops on the roots of the tooth, under the gum destroys the bone that supports the tooth, thereby, causing the tooth to fall off.
The bacteria from the dental plaque can enter the bloodstream and spread the infection to the other organs in the body such as lungs, heart, etc. Sometimes from the bloodstream they disseminate into the wall of the blood vessel and cause atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels). This can result in heart diseases such as myocardial infarction and myocardial ischemia.
The dentist identifies the dental plaque by performing a thorough examination of the teeth and oral cavity using dental tools. She may use special tablets which produce a dark red stain in the areas of plaque. Alternatively, a light solution which turns the plaque into a bright orange-yellow color may also be used.
In the initial stages, certain home remedies can help in removal of the plaque. Treatment may be necessary when the dental plaque hardens to tartar which is difficult to remove with brushing and flossing.
Professional dental cleaning involves procedure such as scaling and root planing. Scaling removes the tartar from the surface of the teeth and the gumline. Root planing removes the byproducts produced by the bacteria, prevents further buildup of tartar and smooths the root surfaces of the teeth.
It is not possible to prevent the formation of plaque on the teeth. However, the following measures can help for regular removal of plaque to reduce its complications:
- Brush the teeth at least twice every day using a toothpaste containing fluoride.
- Floss between the teeth once daily to remove the food remnants and bacteria.
- Use a soft, round-tip bristled brush and change it for every 2-3 months.
- Regularly use antibacterial mouth wash to clear off the bacteria remaining after brushing.
- Rinse the mouth after eating to stimulate the secretion of saliva which clears off the bacteria.
- Eat a nutritiously well-balanced diet. Crunchy vegetables andfruits such as carrots, cucumbers, apples, etc. are teeth-friendly.
- Reduce the intake of sugars in the diet to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Consider chewing a sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating.
- Visit a dentist once every 6 to 12 months for getting the teeth cleaned and for overall dental checkup.
Sometimes it is difficult to clean the pits and fissures on the molars despite a good dental care. In such situations, use of dental sealants may be helpful. Dental sealants form an invisible protective covering on the teeth and prevents the formation of plaque in the teeth.