Person brushing teeth

Everyone wants to have a nice, shiny smile. But showing off those straight, pearly whites doesn't mean that your mouth isn't in need of oral care. Chances are, plaque is lurking on your teeth. So it's critical to know what plaque is and how to remove it.

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a colorless, sticky layer of bacteria that constantly collects on teeth. Bacteria in plaque use sugar found in foods to produce acids. Those acids weaken and destroy tooth enamel. This increases your risk for cavities and gingivitis – the first stage of gum disease.

Plaque can also develop on tooth roots found under the gums. This can cause the bones that hold teeth in place to decay. If plaque isn’t continually removed from a tooth’s surface, it hardens into a substance known as tartar.

Dental plaque is relatively normal since it can be found on most everyone’s teeth to varying extents. Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to remove plaque and keep it from forming into tartar.

What Causes Plaque?

Foods high in sugar or starch, such as soda, juice, bread, and pasta, are the catalysts for plaque formation—bacteria in the mouth mix with these to form acids that break down carbohydrates. The combination of bacteria, acids, and carbohydrates creates the clear, sticky biofilm known as plaque.

Plaque is produced on teeth every day. Brushing your teeth at least twice each day is important, as brushing is the best way to neutralize plaque accumulation.

Tooth Plaque vs. Tartar

Dental plaque and tartar are related. Plaque is the initial biofilm that forms on your teeth due to eating too many sugary foods and not practicing the proper oral care to remove it. Plaque is constantly forming, so taking care of your teeth to ensure you’re removing plaque is the best way to minimize its harmful effects.

Tartar, also called calculus, results when plaque calcifies by trapping calcium and other minerals found in saliva. This hardened version of plaque is tartar. Tartar that builds up can cause teeth to become discolored. 

The two substances each have a different feel. Plaque tends to give off a fuzzy feeling when you rub your tongue along your teeth. Tartar has a rougher feel. It will also have a yellow or brown tinge. 

Tartar can be easily stained by food and drinks given its porous nature. It can also form behind and in between teeth. The best way to prevent tartar from collecting on teeth is to remove plaque before it transforms into tartar.

Does Plaque Cause Bad Breath?

Several factors can cause bad breath. Some of those include medical conditions such as diabetes and allergies, a lack of saliva due to dry mouth, and an abundance of bacteria on the tongue.

Plaque can also cause bad breath once it collects on your teeth and gums. The bacteria found in plaque break down food and proteins. This leads to the creation of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). These VSCs smell when they are released in the mouth.

How to Remove Plaque from Teeth?

Regular brushing and flossing are two of the main ways to remove plaque on teeth.

Floss prior to brushing to dislodge any food particles stuck in spots that are difficult for a toothbrush to easily reach. Use proper form while flossing.

Hold the floss tight between your thumb and forefingers as you gently slide it between each tooth. Then form the letter ‘C’ with the floss around each tooth. Next, carefully slide the floss up and down the tooth. 

Then brush your teeth. Brush at least two times each day. Use a brush that has soft bristles, or opt for an electric toothbrush. Your toothpaste should contain fluoride and be approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). Look for the ADA's seal on the box.

Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle from the gums and use short, gentle strokes. Hard, aggressive brushing can wear away tooth enamel. Brush all the tooth surfaces – outside, inside, and chewing. And don’t forget to brush your tongue as well to remove bacteria that collects on its surface.

How to Remove Tartar from Teeth

There are three factors that put you at a higher risk for developing tartar.

  • Neglecting to remove plaque by brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis
  • Not scheduling regular cleanings with your dentist
  • Crooked teeth that complicate your ability to clean between them

The following signs will indicate that tartar has formed on your teeth.

  • Tender, painful gums that bleed when you brush and floss
  • Hard, rough patches on a tooth's surface
  • Colored spots that have developed along the gum line or in between teeth

Now that the plaque has become tartar and can no longer be removed by daily brushing and flossing, you need to schedule a cleaning with your dentist.  Only a dental professional can remove tartar. Once process used for tartar removal is called scaling and root planing.

Scaling and Root Planing

Scaling and root planing is a two-step process that cleans below the gumline in an effort to treat gum disease.

Scaling is when a dentist or hygienist removes plaque and tartar from a tooth's surface and below the gumline. This can be done with a manual instrument, an ultrasonic device, or both. The ultrasonic device uses sonic vibrations to the plaque and tartar. A manual device might be necessary to chip away sections of tartar that have hardened too much to be removed by the sonic vibrations.

Root planing is the second step of the process. Your dentist performs a more precise scaling along a tooth's root surface to smooth out rough spots. Bacteria, plaque, and tartar won't be able to form along a tooth's root once the surface has been smoothed over. Root planing will also decrease swollen gum tissue. The gums can then reattach themselves more firmly to the teeth.

A scaling and root planing procedure may require more than one office visit to complete. You also might need to be administered a local anesthetic prior to the procedure.

Post Procedure

If your scaling and root planing procedure required a local anesthetic, you might have some residual pain for a few days post-procedure. You might also have some tooth sensitivity along with tender and bleeding gums. Talk to your dentist about whether to treat the pain with an over-the-counter pain and inflammation medication or if you need a prescription-strength pain reliever. 

Your dentist might also recommend an oral rinse to help prevent infections. Another option is for your dentist to insert a medication, such as subantimicrobial-dose doxycycline, directly into the pocket that was cleaned.

Schedule a follow-up visit after your procedure is complete. Your dentists will want to check to see if your gums have properly healed and to measure the pocket depths. If they've gotten deeper, you might need an additional treatment session.

Sticking with your daily oral care regimen is your best method to minimize plaque and, in turn, prevent tartar from forming on your teeth.

How to Prevent Plaque Build-Up

Plaque collects on your teeth daily no matter how diligently you’re dedicated to good oral care. Besides brushing and flossing – which are your best options to remove plaque each day - here are some tips on how to prevent plaque from building up on your teeth.

  • Eat Healthy Foods – Opt for nutritious foods instead of those high in sugar and starch. Fruits and vegetables, cheese, and plain yogurt are good options to include with meals and snacks.
  • Chew Sugarless Gum – Chew sugar-free gum after a meal or snack if you’re unable to brush your teeth. Look for a gum with the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval on the package.
  • Use Mouthwash – Rinsing with mouth wash is one way to complement brushing and flossing. Choose a rinse that is antiseptic – whether it’s over-the-counter or prescription-strength prescribed by your dentist.
  • Schedule Dental Visits – Make sure to see your dentist twice a year for regular cleanings. Your dentist will also be able to check for other oral issues before they become a problem.

Find a Dentist Near You to Treat Tooth Plaque

Consult your dentist to discuss the best methods to prevent or remove tooth plaque. Or, visit The Smile Generation to find a dentist near you for your tooth plaque prevention or removal needs. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.

Sources: 

  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/plaque-and-tartar/plaque-what-is-it-and-how-do-we-get-rid-of-it
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10953-plaque
  • https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/p/plaque
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/plaque-vs-tartar
  • https://www.jnj.com/health-and-wellness/surprising-causes-of-bad-breath
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-remove-plaque
  • https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/scaling-and-root-planing
  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/gum-disease/what-dentists-do-when-root-planing-and-scaling-teeth
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/plaque-vs-tartar#differences