Why It’s So Important to Prevent Plaque Build-up
More than 80 percent of American adults suffer from periodontal disease caused by plaque build-up, according to one count. Are you one of them?
Plaque hardens within just a few hours of forming on your teeth, and turns into tartar in less than a couple of weeks. That build-up can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss if it’s left untreated.
No doubt this is far from the first time you’ve heard about plaque. Your dentist probably mentioned it every time she or he reminded you to brush and floss twice a day at the end of your appointments as a kid. But, did you ever really know what it was and why it’s so important to prevent? It’s OK to admit that you didn’t. We’re going to clear that up here and now.
What exactly is plaque?
Let’s start with a basic definition: Plaque is a sticky film that constantly forms on our teeth from leftover food and the saliva in our mouth. It’s loaded with bacteria. The sugars in the food and drinks we consume cause the bacteria to release acids that attack our teeth’s enamel. When the enamel breaks down, that’s how cavities happen.
While that sounds fairly serious, it’s easily remedied. Brush and floss at least a couple times a day and see your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning. Start to break from that habit, however, and that’s when your plaque will harden and turn into tartar. And tartar can lead to gingivitis, an early form of gum disease, and periodontal disease.
Almost all food and drinks cause plaque—which is why it’s so important to brush and floss—but some are especially menacing. These are a few of the most popular offenders:
Yeah, saliva comprises some of that sticky film, but it also washes away food particles. Drinking, however, dries out our mouths, which makes it all that much easier for plaque to form. So, drink lots of water, too. It’ll keep your mouth hydrated and, with any luck, stave off tomorrow morning’s nasty hangover.
I know: We love bread, but it never seems to love us back. As we chew it, our saliva breaks down the starches into sugar. Even more, after enough chewing, that bite of bread has become more like a paste that sticks to the crevices between our teeth. You don’t have to quit bread. Just try to eat less-refined varieties. They have less added sugars, and they don’t break down as easily.
One recent study found that a steady diet of soda could be as damaging to our teeth as using methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Sodas enable plaque to produce even more acid. Compounding the problem, it also dries out your mouth. There’s really no healthier alternative here. Just try to avoid soda altogether.
So, how do I remove plaque?
Once plaque hardens into tartar, the only way to remove it is to see your dentist because your teeth will need to be professionally scraped.
Don’t believe the hype about tartar-control toothpastes. They won’t remove tartar or even halt its progress. Instead, they work by removing plaque from your teeth before it hardens and turns into tartar—which just about any toothpaste is capable of doing.
In fact, brushing your teeth, basic as it may seem, is the most effective measure you can take for not only preventing plaque build-up in the first place but also removing the plaque that’s already started to form. As long as it hasn’t yet hardened into tartar, brushing can eliminate plaque from your teeth in its entirety.
Brushing also removes the loose food particles that contribute to the development of plaque. (Not insignificantly, it also ensures you won’t be delivering another morning presentation with a poppy seed lodged between your two front teeth. It’s hard for all involved to unsee that one.) Just be sure to brush all of your teeth’s surfaces—front, back, top, and bottom. And when you’re done, get in there with a piece of floss. Flossing will flush out the most stubborn particles that are hiding out in the nooks between your teeth.
What if I’ve developed periodontal disease?
Even more startling than the number I led with—80 percent of American adults suffer from periodontal disease caused by plaque build-up—is the likely reality that it’s a conservative estimate. Periodontal disease has been described by one expert as, “one of the most prevalent non-communicable chronic diseases in our population.” So, if you believe you have periodontal disease, you’re far from alone.
Reading this blog post is a good place to begin your treatment. For your next step, contact my office and schedule an appointment. I’ll conduct a Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation and then tailor a treatment plan that we can begin implementing at your next visit. There’s no need to be self-conscious or embarrassed anymore. But the longer you wait to do something about your periodontal disease, the greater the risk for potential complications.