Plaque: What is it and why do I need to worry about it?
By Mina Levi, DDS 03/13/2014

We see advertisements daily for oral care products that promise to fight or reduce plaque, and we hear the word “plaque” often when we visit the dentist. Many people know that plaque is referring to the yellowish substance that sticks to the teeth when we don’t brush, but what exactly is plaque and why is it something that we need to fight? In this article, we discuss dental plaque, what it can do to our oral and overall health, as well as the best ways to reduceplaque in the mouth.

What is plaque?
Plaque is a bacteria ridden sticky film-like substance that builds up on teeth. When you eat and drink, the bacteria in the plaque use the sugars from your food and drink to produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel. If plaque is left on the teeth for a period of time, it can eventually harden and turn into tartar or calculus. Tartar is a “petrified” plaque, and once it is on the teeth you will need the help of the dentist to remove it. There are a few habits that promote plaque build-up that you should avoid:

1. Not brushing. When you do not brush your teeth twice a day, you may feel a difference or you may not notice. Either way, your teeth suffer the consequences of plaque build-up. Brush every surface of your teeth twice per day to avoid plaque build-up and the formation of tartar.
2. Not flossing. Flossing is important because only brushing does not reach in between the teeth, so those surfaces are not being cleaned if you brush but do not floss. This leaves the area open for plaque to accumulate.
3. Not eating enough vegetables and fruits. Certain foods play a role in cleaning teeth and keeping plaque away in addition to brushing and flossing. Crunchy vegetables or fruits with skin on them like apples and cucumbers can help remove plaque from the teeth.
4. Eating too many sweets. The bacteria in plaque live off of the sugar in your food. If you eat foods that are high in sugar, this lets more sugar stick to our teeth that the bacteria eat and turn into acid.
5. Avoiding the dentist. Even if you brush and floss your teeth twice per day, you’ll still miss some plaque and tartar will form if you do not see the dentist regularly at least twice per year. Tartar and calculus will not be able to be removed at home, and you will need the help of a dental professional.

How does dental plaque affect my health?
When the bacteria in the plaque use sugars to produce acid in the mouth, this acid attacks the tooth enamel and causes the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in a cavity in the tooth surface.
San Francisco Dentist Tartar Accumulation
The plaque that is not removed and hardens into tartar will collect at the gum line, making it more difficult to floss and brush. As the tartar builds up, gum tissue can become red and swollen and may bleed when brushing the teeth. These symptoms are together called gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease or periodontal disease. Gingivitis is reversible with a good oral hygiene regimen and seeing a dentist, but if it is left untreated then gingivitis can turn into periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease, and occurs when the bacterial infection causes the gums and supporting dental tissue to breakdown. This will cause your gums to recede, pulling away from the tooth.

How can we fight plaque?
The most important part of fighting plaque is to see the dentist at least every six months for a professional cleaning and evaluation. The dental professional will be able to see the symptoms of plaque build-up or gingivitis before you can, and can help lead you in the right direction towards healing and prevention. Also, brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day will ensure that plaque removal is continuously maintained. Eating a balanced diet with a lot of fibrous fruits and vegetables will help remove food and help saliva neutralize the plaque-causing acids.

If you have any questions or concerns about plaque build-up or need to establish regular dental care and oral hygiene, visit Premier San Francisco Dentist Mina Levi DDS on the web at or give us a call at (415) 513-5066.