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What is dental plaque?


Fighting Plaque

After thousands of years of study, innovation and treatment, some of the best advice for fighting plaque remains the same: brush after meals and floss daily. Cleaning teeth after eating reduces the build-up of bacteria that's inevitable if it isn't sloughed off teeth and spit out. Interdental cleaning, which includes flossing and using picks or gum stimulators to dislodge food particles, is one of the best ways to keep plaque from forming and spreading between teeth and into the gum line. Rinses are a third component for many, and alcohol-free, fluoride and anti-bacterial options can help remove particles and plaque film, as well as freshen breath. Mouth rinses should not be a replacement for brushing or flossing, though, but as an added hygiene tool or a specific recommendation by a dental professional [source: ADA].

Products help us purge plaque by repelling bacteria, and specialized professional products such as sealants can be applied to teeth in a dentist's office. Sealants are made from a plastic material, and when painted on teeth, especially the plaque-attracting back molars, sealants fill in crevices and dry to form a shield that protects tooth enamel from decay. Both children and adults can benefit from sealants, but they don't replace daily cleanings and aren't for everyone. A dentist can advise whether they will be effective [source: ADA].

Even with our very best efforts -- brushing at least twice a day, flossing, rinsing and more -- plaque can't be completely prevented and eliminated. Regular dental office cleanings and checkups are important for keeping teeth and gums healthy. Once plaque hardens, no toothpaste, brush, rinse or floss can tear it down: It needs to be removed with ultrasonic tools to vibrate away large stuck-on pieces and finer scaling tools to pick off smaller tartar growths. Cleaning and removing plaque is also called prophylaxis, which is a term for a treatment that aims at preventing disease, and in the case of dental cleaning, it prevents tooth decay and gum disease and removes stains. Polishing comes after a thorough cleaning, and it provides a smooth finish to tooth surfaces, but it has little hygienic benefit and is instead mainly cosmetic [source: ADHA].

All of this dental maintenance works best in combination with a healthy diet and post-meal plan. Foods high in carbohydrates and those with a lot of acid stick to and eat away at tooth enamel, and many foods aside from sweets break down into sugars. Brushing soon after eating and cleaning all-around the inside of the whole mouth will inhibit plaque growth. Sugary sweets are loaded with glue-like carbs for icing your teeth with bacteria and acids, so planning a toothbrush attack after a sweet-tooth attack is a good battle plan. Plaque is a friendly and fast-growing "party in your mouth" if it isn't given its walking papers soon after settling in. Brushing well, flossing often and never going to bed without gently evicting the bacteria first can help keep your mouth clean and healthy.

Links to more tips for removing slime from your smile follow.