Plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth and contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria in plaque cause tooth decay and gum disease if they are not removed regularly through brushing and flossing.
When you eat, the bacteria in plaque use the sugars in your food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. Repeated attacks cause the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in a cavity (or hole) in the tooth surface.
Plaque that is not removed daily by brushing and flossing between teeth can eventually harden into tartar. Brushing and flossing become more difficult as tartar collects at the gum line. As the tartar, plaque and bacteria continue to increase, the gum tissue can become red, swollen and possibly bleed when you brush your teeth. This is called gingivitis, an early stage of gum (periodontal) disease.
- Brush your teeth twice a day, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque from tooth surfaces and protect your teeth from decay.
- Clean between teeth daily (preferably before bedtime) with floss or an interdental cleaner to remove plaque from the places where your toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing is essential to preventing gum disease.
- Since plaque is a sticky substance, you must brush and floss to help remove it. Mouth rinses alone will not provide enough plaque removal to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks, which can provide more sugar for the bacteria in plaque to convert into decay-causing acids.
- Visit your dentist at least once a year for professional cleanings and oral exams.