By Last Updated: October 6, 2023

Dental plaque is a soft, sticky, colourless substance that forms on your teeth. It is very normal to produce plaque as it is often made up of the food we eat and saliva. However, if it is left for a long time, you may suffer from bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. So, plaque must be removed with daily toothbrushing and routine teeth cleaning.

What is a dental plaque?

The mouth is normally full of bacteria that are constantly multiplying. If bacteria mix with saliva and the sugars from our diet, it forms what we call plaque.

Plaque is a sticky, colourless film made of bacteria, saliva, and sugars in the mouth. It constantly forms on the tooth and gums or on dentures, bridges and crowns, and even your dental braces. 

Over time, soft dental plaque will harden to tartar and this can be quite hard to remove with just toothbrushing. At this point, you will need your dentist to scrape them off with professional teeth cleaning. Plaque is also highly acidic and can rot the teeth if not removed.

What does plaque look like on your teeth?

Plaque usually accumulates on the molars or back teeth because of their ridges and grooves that can be hard to clean. However, dental plaque is mostly colourless, so it can be quite hard to spot. But, when it mixes with coloured food and drinks, it may be more visible.

If you are fond of coffee, tea, or wine, these may make plaque look darker. Smoking can also stain the plaque and make it visible.

Plaque also looks fuzzy on the teeth. Most people describe it as the teeth-wearing fuzzy sweaters. That is plaque. Once plaque hardens, it will turn into tartar or dental calculus. This is a hard substance that looks like white or yellowish cement on the tooth surface.

What are the symptoms of dental plaque?

Because dental plaque is hard to spot, you would only know you have dental plaque if you are already experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Recurring bad breath (halitosis)
  • Red, swollen gums that easily bleed

Hardened dental plaque or calculus would have worse symptoms such as receded gums and periodontal disease. This is where bacteria eat away the bone surrounding the teeth. Eventually, the teeth will become loose from its socket and you may suffer from tooth loss.

What causes plaque on teeth?

Dental plaque forms when the naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth mixes with saliva and the sugar or starches that we eat. This is in food such as rice and its alternatives, bread, milk, juice, pasta, and even fruits. Bacteria feed on these sugars and carbohydrates, producing acids in the process. These acids, when combined with other food particles and debris, become plaque.

While almost invisible, dental plaque is very harmful especially if they are not removed. Plaque is highly acidic and is the number one cause of decay and cavities. The acids erode the tooth enamel and cause the teeth to rot and decay. Plaque may also build up along the gumline and cause gingivitis or gum disease. 

How do dentists treat plaque?

Plaque is removed through oral prophylaxis or professional teeth cleaning. Your dentist or hygienist will use a high-frequency ultrasonic scaler that can scrape off soft plaque, hard tartar, or stains. Aside from teeth cleaning, other recommendations may include:

  • Dental sealants – sealants are used to “seal” the deep grooves on your teeth so they do not become prone to plaque accumulations. This is especially advisable for children with new adult teeth so they would remain plaque and bacteria-free as they grow and develop.
  • Fluoride treatment – fluoride is very effective in strengthening the teeth by making them less vulnerable to decay from the acids in plaque. This reduces your risk of tooth decay and cavities.
  • Proper hygiene education – the most effective way to reduce plaque is by keeping your at-home hygiene routine in check. At Signal Hill, we take the time to introduce you to proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques to make sure that you can maintain good oral health. If needed, we may also recommend prescription toothpaste and mouthwash for additional measures.

How can I reduce dental plaque?

  • Brush at least twice a day – brushing is crucial to prevent plaque accumulation. Ideally, you should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste for good oral health maintenance. Make it a habit to brush after meals to prevent sugars from sticking to your teeth.
  • Floss daily – flossing removes plaque and food debris that your toothbrush cannot reach. Such as the in-betweens of your teeth and beneath the gum line.
  • Chew sugarless gum – if you cannot brush immediately after eating or drinking, sugarless gum can help wash away debris by keeping a good flow of saliva.
  • Maintain a healthy diet – limit sugars and starches as these are the main food sources of the bacteria in the mouth. Without these, plaque will not form as easily. Instead, go for healthier options such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year – routine check-ups and teeth cleaning should be done every 6 months. For those with gum and periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend that you see them every 4 months. This is so they can spot early signs of dental problems and provide early treatment.

Better Oral Health at Signal Hill

Plaque is inevitable. The only way we can prevent it from harming the mouth is to remove it before it can even cause concerns. At Signal Hill, we are advocates of preventive dentistry where oral health is maintained and improved to keep your mouth disease-free.

Preventive dentistry targets plaque by keeping it at bay through frequent dental cleanings. Dental sealants are also a good preventive technique that covers plaque-risk zones so they no longer have areas to accumulate.

Book an appointment today at Signal Hill in Calgary, Alberta to discover more about oral health maintenance and how we can keep your smile happy and healthy.