Most of us know that preventive dentistry is the best method for keeping our mouths healthy and beautiful, but maybe we don’t know why. When you understand why it’s important to brush, floss, and make regular dental visits, you’ll be more eager to take care of your oral health. At any given time, there are between 100 million to 1 billion bacteria living inside our mouths. These bacteria help our bodies break down food before it’s even hit our stomachs. Given the right circumstances, however, such as sugary food sources, specific bacteria can cause harmful dental plaque.

Dental plaque can be one of our mouth’s biggest enemies. It’s what initiates tooth decay, cavities, infection, bad breath, and periodontal disease. Let the Wichita Falls dentists at StarImage Dentistry help you avoid the dangers of plaque. 

before and after comparison of Dental plaque on teeth

What Is Dental Plaque?

Plaque is a soft, sticky film made of leftover food particles and bacteria present in saliva. These bacteria consume different components of our food and do the things that all living things do: reproduce and excrete waste. They also create a film that helps them to cling together and protects them from the antibacterial components in your saliva. 

There are at least 700 different species of bacteria in your mouth, all of them adapted to deal with the environment in different ways, including what they eat. Some bacteria in plaque feed off sugars. These bacteria produce acidic substances which eat away at our tooth enamel (the hard white outer layer of teeth), eventually causing a cavity. The more sugar and other refined carbs that you eat, the more this type of bacteria will grow. Then damage to your teeth will become more and more serious. 

What Causes Plaque on Teeth?

Plaque develops from bacteria already present in the mouth. When these special types of bacteria are given circumstances in which they thrive, they’ll form plaque. The process starts when food enters the mouth and is broken down. When saliva-containing plaque-forming bacteria make contact with food particles containing carbohydrates or sugar, plaque begins to form. 

Plaque is actually made out of a plasticized form of sugar. Thus, for oral bacteria, it not only serves as a protective coating, but it’s also food storage.  Like a gingerbread house.

What Is the Difference Between Plaque and Tartar?

Tartar, also called dental calculus, is hardened plaque. 

Your saliva contains minerals like calcium. Under the right conditions (not acidic), your teeth can absorb these minerals to replace those lost to acids that pass through your mouth. The acids include those secreted by bacteria but also acids from drinks like soda, wine, and fruit juice. It’s a kind of self-repair mechanism. It’s very slow, but if conditions in your mouth are right most of the time, it can keep your teeth healthy and strong for life. 

However, if you don’t clean plaque off quickly, it absorbs the minerals from your saliva and hardens into tartar. This is, essentially, fossilized plaque. (A side effect of this is that tartar preserves vital information about the diets of earlier generations.) 

Once plaque becomes tartar, you can’t really remove it at home. It takes a professional dental cleaning at a Wichita Falls Dental office to remove the hardened form. 

Why Is Dental Plaque a Problem?

Plaque is partly a problem because it clings to teeth. This concentrates the acid that bacteria produce so that it attacks your teeth in specific places, removing minerals from the enamel and eventually forming cavities. For oral bacteria, this is like adding another floor to their house–including an oversized pantry. Cavities trap food and give more space for bacteria to grow. Once cavities start to form, they can grow in size relatively quickly, which is why it’s important to get cavities filled soon after they’re detected. 

But plaque has one more tricky role as tartar. Tartar provides a shelter for bacteria and can increase your risk of cavities and gum disease. Initially, this just causes gum irritation and inflammation. Your gums might get puffy, red, and tender. However, as gum disease worsens, oral bacteria will form periodontal pockets around your teeth–like cavities in your gums–that can lead to more serious gum disease. 

Once these pockets develop, you might need a deep teeth cleaning, also known as scaling and root planing. In this procedure, your Wichita Falls dentist will enter the space between your teeth and gums. They’ll clean out the bacteria there, then smooth your teeth to make it easier for your gums to reattach and harder for oral bacteria to recolonize the space. 

How Can You Prevent Dental Plaque?

There are two plaque prevention steps you can take, and the first is diet. Limit the food sources that cause damaging bacteria to thrive: foods high in sugar or carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates are found in most food sources, however, it’s not reasonable to cut carbs completely. Avoiding candy, white bread, or pastries would be helpful for both your teeth and your diet.

The second step is one we’ve already mentioned: brushing and flossing twice a day. Brushing removes loose food particles before they have the opportunity to turn into plaque. It can also remove plaque from your teeth. Make sure to brush your teeth for at least two minutes, paying special attention to your gum line by angling the toothbrush at forty-five degrees. If your dexterity has been impaired by other medical conditions, consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. This will help you clean your teeth thoroughly. Additionally, flossing will ensure you won’t be missing the hard-to-reach places between your teeth.

Another important step to take control of your oral health is regularly seeing a Wichita Falls dentist and getting cleanings at least twice a year. This is the only way to safely remove tartar. If you don’t remember the last time you had a cleaning, it’s time to schedule an appointment.

To talk to a general dentist in Wichita Falls, TX, please call 940-322-2252 today for an appointment at StarImage Dentistry, located near Wichita Falls High School.