Plaque is a colorless substance that coats the teeth and is produced by bacteria, which are present in everyone’s mouth. If you go a while without brushing your teeth, you will begin to notice the plaque. At such a time, you can scrape it off your teeth, and it looks whitish.
Plaque hardens after a period of time to form tartar. This happens when plaque is not removed by regular brushing or flossing. Also known as “dental calculus,” tartar cannot be removed with a toothbrush. It provides a rough surface, which helps more plaque to form. It also forms in places where brushing and flossing may not reach, such as in the tiny gaps between teeth and the area under the gum-line. This allows plaque to flourish in those places.
Together plaque and tartar create a vicious cycle, which causes several harmful effects to the teeth and gums.
Negative Effects of Dental Plaque
Tooth Decay: Plaque will break down food particles in the mouth, thus producing acids that will make teeth vulnerable. It destroys tooth enamel to cause areas of decay, which leads to cavities.
Gingivitis: Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and is due to bacterial infection and acid production by plaque. The gums are red, swollen and painful, and they bleed easily.
Periodontitis: Periodontitis is severe inflammation around the teeth and is a progression of gingivitis that has not been properly treated. It causes destruction of the gums and other structures around the teeth.
Tooth Abscess and Toothache: Cavities in teeth allow bacteria to infect the center of such teeth. This results in accumulation of pus within the teeth (abscess) and toothache. Tooth decay erodes into teeth and eventually reaches the nerve endings at the root where it causes a severe toothache.
Tooth Loss: Tooth decay, tooth abscesses and periodontitis damage the inside of teeth, the gums and the structures surrounding the teeth. They cause teeth to become loose and fall off easily.
Bad Breath: Bad breath from plaque results from tooth decay, tooth abscess and periodontitis.
Unsightly Teeth: Plaque causes unpleasant-looking dentition due to:
– Accumulation of plaque and tartar at the gum-line and between teeth
– Dark and irregular tooth surfaces from tooth decay and cavities
– Receding gum-line from periodontitis
– Discolored teeth, since tartar is easily stained by tobacco and drinks such as coffee or tea. Since tartar cannot be removed by brushing, the stains remain until the tartar is removed by a dentist.
Ruined Dentures: Dentures are more susceptible to the acids produced by plaque. They are made of materials that are easily degraded, unlike tooth enamel, which is even stronger than bone.
Plaque and its negative effects can be prevented by brushing your teeth and flossing regularly, eating fewer sugary and starchy foods and, most importantly, visiting a dentist for regular oral care treatment.
“Plaque: What It Is and How to Get Rid of It,” National Institute of Health.
“Dental Cavities,” National Institute of Health.
“Periodontitis,” National Institute of Health.
“Tooth Abscess,” National Institute of Health.