If only real-life dental care was as obvious as those animated television ads for products like cavity-fighting mouthwash -- where small armies of cleansing agents blast away layers of brightly colored plaque, leaving your teeth protected and your breath minty fresh.
In reality, plaque is often a hidden danger. You can brush and floss your teeth until your gums bleed, but plaque -- the colorless (but easily stained) film of food particles and bacteria that is constantly forming on your pearly whites -- can still remain. Plaque is tenacious, clinging to your teeth's enamel like Velcro.
Formed by the germs and bacteria that feed on the starches and sugars found in food particles, plaque is insidious, forming constantly. Initially, this film is soft and can be removed safely with proper brushing and flossing techniques. But if you don't remove plaque daily, it can begin to harden within 48 hours.
After a week, the result is tartar, or dental calculus, which is more like cement than sludge. The presence of tartar can be a precursor to cavities, since the acids produced by tartar's bacteria erode tooth enamel by essentially leaching important minerals.
Therefore, putting a stop to this corrosive chain is critical to maintaining good dental hygiene. Daily brushing and flossing is an important first step. But even conscientious brushers and flossers can miss a few spots, and where there's an opening, plaque will develop. The solution is plaque-disclosing tablets.
Typically made of vegetable dye, the tablets are ingenious and very easy to use. After brushing and flossing, rinse your mouth with fresh water. Place a plaque-disclosing tablet on your tongue, let your mouth's natural saliva dissolve it, and then swish the mixture around for a half-minute or so, making sure it covers all your teeth.
After you spit out the mixture (don't be alarmed by the bright colors), take a look in the mirror. The bright red or blue stain you see covering your teeth is actually the plaque that your first brush or floss missed. Your gums may also be stained, but that's normal. Now that you can see the plaque, you can brush and floss a second time, more thoroughly.
Plague-disclosing tablets can benefit anyone, but they're especially useful for people who are prone to plaque build-up due to extenuating circumstances, such as receding gums or dental apparatus, including braces or bridges.
The tablets are readily available (most neighborhood drug stores, and even big box stores like Wal-Mart carry them), relatively inexpensive (at Amazon.com, a packet of 30 tablets costs roughly $12, and a box of 250 costs $40) and very effective in uncovering the colorless film. Just the cost-savings between the tablets and the average cleaning bill from your friendly family dentist will add a sparkle to your smile.
What are some tips for using plaque-disclosing tablets?
Tips for Using Plaque-disclosing Tablets
Anyone can use plaque-disclosing tablets, though they're particularly effective for youngsters who have yet to develop ideal brushing and flossing techniques or habits. Even those children who insist they've brushed properly can't escape the visual evidence of dyed teeth.
If fact, the tablets -- thanks to the bright colors such as red, blue and purple (not to mention different flavors, like cherry) -- lend themselves to making a game of ferreting out plaque. Crafty adults can engage their children by making a game of using the tablets to promote good hygiene -- what kid doesn't think bright blue teeth are cool? Even better, the results are immediate, which will suit even the most impatient youngster.
Remind your child that dental hygiene isn't a "one-and-done" exercise, but an ongoing process. Like any fitness regimen, it's a lifestyle choice. And it teaches him or her that a thorough dental self-exam will pay dividends for them for the rest of their lives.
Conversely, you should never consider yourself too old to use new dental-hygiene tools. Even adults with prior dental issues, including cavities, can benefit from the tablets, since plaque, like rust, never sleeps. You want to preserve whatever healthy tooth enamel you have.
Of course, you can take the "out of sight, out of mind" approach to plaque, but your dentist is likely to remind you of the spots you missed (either in terms of tartar build-up or cavities). Most of us do a better job brushing our front teeth, while our larger teeth in back don't often get the same vigilant treatment. And that's where plaque can do its damage. Plaque-disclosing tablets will stain those areas, but you still have to be able to see the dye to address the issue.
For those hard-to-see areas, invest in a small dental mirror. This will ensure that you can find every nook and cranny that plaque, and the dye, will also find. To prevent the mirror from fogging up, run it under warm water. You can also purchase an inexpensive set of dental picks or a double-sided tartar scraper to clean hardened build-up, but those tools are typically best left in the hands of professionals.
Timing is also important. Again, these tablets are effective because they contain a bright dye. The flip side is that some dyes don't fade very quickly, and can last up to 24 hours. The dye can also temporarily color lips and cheeks. Think twice about using the tablets before a big night on the town (unless, of course, it's Halloween). Most people use the tablets before bed, allowing the dye to fade naturally overnight.
Likewise, the dye in these tablets can stain clothing and towels. Users should exercise caution, and rinse any discolored clothing immediately.
For most, the tablets are perfectly safe to use. However, people prone to allergies -- and especially those allergic to dyes -- should be sure to review the package instructions and list of ingredients. If you have any doubts, check with your physician or dentist.
Want to know more? We've got lots more information on the next page.
- American Dental Association. "Oral Health Topics: Frequently Ask Questions." ADA.org. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://www.ada.org/4163.aspx?currentTab=1
- Checkdent. "Plaque Tablets - Why Use Them?" Checkdent.com. April 11, 2011. (Nov. 4, 2011) http://www.checkdent.com/dental-blog/plaque-tablets.html?lang=en
- Colgate. "Plaque: What is it and How do We Get Rid of It?" (Nov. 4, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Common-Concerns/Plaque-and-Tartar/article/Plaque-What-is-it-and-How-do-we-get-rid-of-it.cvsp
- Healthwise. "Plaque." WebMD.com. April 18, 2011. (Nov. 5, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/plaque-dental
- Healthwise. "Self-Examination for Dental Plaque." WebMD.com. June 9, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/self-examination-for-dental-plaque
- Jacobs, Virginia. "Plaque disclosing Tablets Show Plaque That Remains After Brushing." Disabled World. Feb. 13, 2011. (Nov. 4, 2011) http://www.disabled-world.com/health/oral/plaque-tablets.php
- Rosenberg, Jack. "Dental plaque identification at home." MedlinePlus. Updated, Feb. 2, 2010. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003426.htm
- SimplyTeeth. "Diet and Tooth Decay." SimplyTeeth.com. (Nov. 5, 2011) http://www.simplyteeth.com/category/sections/adult/caringteethgums/DietDecay.asp?category=adult§ion=4&page=5
- Web Dental Office. "What Causes Plaque on Your Teeth?" March 29, 2009. (Nov. 5, 2011) http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/abyss/dep1211.htm