Everyone has dental plaque on their teeth. The degree of plaque depends on the person and their proper oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing and keeping regular dental check-ups. If you run your tongue over your teeth and feel that fuzzy texture, that is plaque! Once you have plaque on your teeth, can you get rid of it yourself?
What is Plaque?
Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth, created when bacteria, saliva, food, and fluids combine in your mouth and collect along the gum line and between teeth. Plaque can affect oral health by making your teeth look yellow and dingy and can cause bad breath. This plaque can lead to dental caries (cavities). The bacteria in the plaque can produce acid, and the enamel of the teeth can break down, causing dental caries.
Those more likely to accumulate more plaque than usual are those that don’t practice good oral hygiene and/or consume a lot of starchy or sugary foods and drinks. People who take medications that can cause dry mouth, have a history of radiation to the neck or head, or who are smokers are also more susceptible to dental plaque.
Gingivitis is an infection and inflammation of the gums that can also be caused by bacterial plaque. If gingivitis progresses without treatment, it becomes periodontitis and can cause bone loss around the teeth or even tooth loss. This inflammatory disease can cause your whole body to be affected (1).
What is Tartar?
Tartar forms when dental plaque is not regularly removed from your teeth. The plaque becomes mineralized into a hard, yellow, or brown substance that tightly adheres to the teeth. Plaque can harden in just one day! Once tartar forms, it can only be removed by a dental professional (1).
How to Prevent and Remove Plaque at Home
Don’t be discouraged! While plaque can be removed with regular brushing, tartar cannot, but plaque and tartar are not inevitable if cleaning the teeth is a priority.
Dental health begins when a baby gets its first tooth. With babies, you can use a small washcloth to massage and clean any teeth that have broken through their gums. It is important to keep baby teeth clean and healthy, as they are the placeholders for adult teeth.
Brushing twice daily at an angle can remove build-up on the teeth and under the gums before it gets a chance to harden into tartar. Doing it twice a day also teaches your little one the importance of this routine and makes it a habit to remember when they are grown. Brushing at night prevents the plaque from building up bacteria overnight while they sleep and damaging their tooth enamel.
Let your child see you caring for your teeth, so they know this is not just “do as I say,” but it’s “do as I do.” Let them watch you brush your teeth and brush their teeth in the morning and at night before bed.
Until a child is six or seven years of age, parents should brush and floss for them while teaching them the appropriate techniques. Train them to brush well, using a circular motion with a small, grain of rice-sized amount of toothpaste and a brush with soft bristles and a small head. Looking in a mirror so your child can watch themself brushing is an excellent way to show them how to clean their teeth thoroughly.
No one wants the plaque and bacteria affecting other parts of the body, so spitting and rinsing with water is important!
The toothpaste should also not be swallowed, so spit it out and rinse the mouth with water. This is why children under three should not have fluoride in their toothpaste until they can spit it out. A non-fluoride, Xylitol-rich toothpaste is best to use until they are three years old. Flavored toothpaste such as mango, strawberry, or bubble gum will be much more appealing to them than a minty toothpaste that they may feel is too tingly or burns their mouth. When the child is over three years old, using a full pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fluoride is ideal.
Don’t forget to floss with a new section of floss between every tooth. When plaque and tartar get trapped between the teeth, these areas are more likely to foster dental caries and increased oral bacteria.
Replace toothbrushes every three to four months, so they don’t fray. Fraying does not allow them to clean as well and may cause sores in the mouth.
Check with our dental staff regarding the use of mouthwash. Children under six should not use mouthwash because it is challenging to swish and spit without swallowing. After six years of age, children can usually use mouthwash for 30 seconds safely, but adult supervision is still required.
Preventing Plaque and Tartar with Mouth Healthy Food Choices
Choosing healthy foods for meals and snacks significantly impacts dental health for children and adults. Excess sugar introduced to the mouth causes bacterial plaque to be created and causes oral cavities and gingivitis if not treated. Carbohydrates are sugars that are sometimes not sweet, so many do not understand that these can cause damage to the teeth as well. These “hidden sugars” like pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, rice, and cereal are some of these unsweet foods that are also plaque creators.
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, proteins, Vitamins D and C, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants is best, with very few processed foods that contain added carbs and sugars.
Fruit juices contain sugars and can be detrimental to a baby or child’s teeth development. Don’t put your baby or toddler to bed with a bottle or sippy cup. Remember to clean the teeth after juices, or even milk products, as they can produce plaque and promote decay. As your child grows, sports drinks, seltzer water, and sweetened sodas should be avoided for the same reasons.
Schedule Regular Dental Check-Ups to Remove Plaque and Tartar
It’s recommended that children and adults visit the dentist for general examinations and cleanings. Before the cleaning begins, the teeth and gums will be checked for signs of plaque and tartar build-up, gingivitis, cavities, and other potential oral health issues. We will also observe the gums, tongue, and throat for any problem areas.
When cleaning begins, tartar and plaque will be removed from the surface of the teeth, between them, and around the gum line. The teeth will be polished with a deep-cleaning toothpaste, flossed, and rinsed.
The visits to the dentist should be twice a year, especially for children. This practice will help us get to know your child, make them more comfortable coming in to have a dental exam and cleaning, and help identify any potential problems promptly. Regular check-ups also provide an opportunity for us to educate your child about proper dental hygiene, oral habits, nutrition needs, and any other specific issues regarding their dental health.
Fluoride treatments can be administered for those in need of a quick and painless way to strengthen enamel and make teeth more resistant to acids and bacteria in the mouth that can cause cavities.
Dental sealants can be applied to molars and premolars. The sealant can provide the rough, uneven surfaces of these teeth with an extra layer of protection. The dental sealants can last from two to ten years and release a small amount of fluoride over time.
To Sum it Up!
Daily brushing, flossing, and twice-a-year dental visits are an easy fix for the common problem of dental plaque and tarter. Prevention can go a long way to deter any plaque build-up or tartar formation on your child’s teeth, as well as your own. Appropriate dental hygiene, diet, regular check-ups, and non-invasive treatments, if needed, are all recommended to keep your dental health at its optimal level. We would be happy to assist you and your child in learning good oral health practices to maintain at home!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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Dental Plaque. (2020, October 14). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10953-plaque.