Plaque forms on the teeth when the sugar from the foods we eat comes in contact with the bacteria already present in the mouth. Plaque is easily removed from the surface of the tooth by brushing and flossing. It can also be rinsed away by drinking water and by saliva. However, when plaque is left on the surface of the tooth it begins to breakdown the surface of the tooth, dissolving the enamel. The enamel is the hard, smooth surface of the tooth protecting the dentin. The dentin is a layer under the enamel; it is softer, darker and more porous than the enamel. Dentin is more susceptible to decay and once decay has eroded through the dentin, the pulp of the tooth is exposed. A root canal or extraction may be necessary to eliminate discomfort and/or stop the spread of the decay.
Plaque build-up can also lead to the formation of tartar. Tartar is a hard substance that is visible to the naked eye. Once tartar has formed, only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove it. If not removed, tartar can cause the gum tissues to recede and lead to gum disease, bone recession and tooth loss.
A simple way to decrease plaque formation is to decrease the number of sugary drinks and foods eaten. The less sugary drinks and foods that are eaten, the less opportunity there is for plaque to form. Establishing good eating habits from childhood will reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, gingivitis, high blood pressure and many other systemic, long-term health concerns.
Good oral hygiene habits that remove plaque will decrease the chances of decay forming. Brush teeth thoroughly after each meal and limit between meal snacking. Flossing every day and drinking plenty of water will benefit oral and total body health.