The Facts About Plaque Buildup

Dental plaque is one of your mouth’s greatest enemies. Plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that mix in your mouth. If you don’t brush properly after meals, it begins to form and build up on your teeth. This is problematic because plaque contains bacteria, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.


Plaque begins to form the minute you start chewing food.  The carbohydrates in the food combine with the natural bacteria in your mouth to create an acid. This acid by itself is problematic because it can eat away at enamel. But when the acid combines with left-behind particles of food and saliva, another chemical reaction happens and the substance becomes sticky and somewhat hard. This substance is plaque, and it sticks to your teeth, causing all sorts of problems if not removed. 


Plaque is technically colorless. Since it’s sticky, it may cause some discoloration since it can cause food particles to stick to your teeth. Once plaque hardens and turns yellow, it becomes tartar.


Dental plaque that remains on your teeth for several days hardens and turns into tartar, which must be scraped off. Tartar makes your teeth look yellow and smell bad, so you may find it difficult to clean your mouth completely once tartar builds up.


When plaque builds up on your teeth, it eats away the enamel, causing cavities and decay. Plaque buildup can even cause gingivitis or severe periodontal (gum) disease. If the plaque becomes tartar, its bacteria can cause bad breath and turn your teeth yellow. 


First, you need to pay attention to your diet. Since plaque needs carbohydrates to form, the fewer you eat, the better. Avoid candy, cookies and other sweet things as much as possible in order to prevent plaque buildup.

It’s not reasonable to avoid all carbohydrates, however. Many healthy foods such as bread, cereal, potatoes and corn still contain carbohydrates. Thus, some plaque is going to form when you eat.

In order to resolve this problem, the best thing you can do is brush and floss twice a day. Brushing removes plaque that has built up on your teeth. In addition, it removes loose food particles that contribute to the development of plaque. Brush your teeth going in two directions so that you brush off all plaque that forms on them, and make sure you brush both the front and the back of your teeth. If you have a hard time brushing, consider using an electric toothbrush, which can automatically go in two directions.

Additionally, you need to floss in order to remove food particles and debris from between your teeth. By flossing, you give bacteria less of a chance to form plaque.


Once plaque gets onto your teeth, you have a limited amount of time to remove it before it hardens. Most plaque hardens within 48 hours of formation, and within several days it will become so hard that it is almost impossible to remove. This hard substance is tartar and the only way to remove it is to see your dentist for a professional scraping of your teeth. There are some types of toothpaste that promise to help with tartar control, but they work by removing plaque off your teeth before it hardens and becomes tartar.

Thinking about dental plaque isn’t pleasant. But if left untreated, plaque can cause serious problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. Knowing more about plaque should encourage you to brush and floss so that you don’t have these dental hygiene problems. 

If you are concerned or aware of plaque build up, contact Dr. Soto The Downey Dentist to find out more about regular teeth cleaning or book an appointment today via our website.

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