Dental Health Tip: How to Remove Plaque at Home Safely

Dental Health Tip: How to Remove Plaque at Home Safely

Why do we care about plaque?

Bacteria grow everywhere. In a 200-pound adult, there are 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria, with a one-to-one ratio of human cells to bacteria. In the gut they help with digestion, but in the mouth, they cause gum disease, bone loss and tooth decay. Bacteria grow in the mouth and the rest of the digestive tract, but in the mouth, they secrete dextrans that act as little anchors, like spiders will do when they spin webs outdoors. This helps bacteria grow or colonize on the surface of the teeth forming mounds that we call plaque. Food in the mouth helps the bacteria grow, and as they do so they release acids that attack tooth enamel.

Over time the enamel breaks down, resulting in holes that we call cavities. When plaque lingers over 24 hours, then it hardens into calculus or tartar. This makes it more difficult to keep your teeth clean.

When tartar collects around the teeth, gums swell and bleed. This first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. Later stages result in slowly losing bone support around the teeth and the teeth then loosen and can even fall out.

The consequences of gum disease are preventable and cavities are avoidable by regular dental visits, brushing after meals with a fluoride toothpaste and by using dental floss as well.

Who gets plaque?

Everyone. However, you will grow more of it if you:

  • Have a lot of sugar in your diet
  • Have dry mouth due to medications like antidepressants or conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Have a history of head/neck radiation or smoke.
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What can I do about plaque?

Regular brushing and flossing remove plaque and prevents calculus buildup. During a dental cleaning, plaque and tartar are removed from your teeth.

Also recommended may be:

  • Sealants to seal cracks and crevices.
  • Medications for dry mouth and to increase saliva production.
  • Fluoride to harden tooth surfaces.
  • Antibacterial mouthwash such as chlorhexidine, or even salt water and baking soda rinses.

Good tooth and gum care are the key to reducing plaque. You should:

  • Floss before brushing after meals daily with dental floss and a water device to get rid of food and plaque between teeth.
  • Brush after each meal daily for at least two minutes with a soft-bristled toothbrush (manual or powered) and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Make healthy foods part of your diet.
  • Reduce sugary foods and drinks. Choose foods and snacks such as yogurt, cheese, raw vegetables or fruit.
  • Visit the dentist for cleanings every 3 to 6 months.
  • Use an over-the-counter or prescription antibacterial mouthwash.

Can I cause harm by cleaning my own teeth?

Teeth are actually much softer than the metal tools used in the dental office. As a result, you can damage teeth severely without the specialized training that dentists and hygienists receive.

You could damage the tooth tissue surrounding the tooth causing sensitivity or requiring surgery to correct. Ding teeth enamel or tooth roots causing tooth sensitivity and promoting decay. Injure your cheeks, tongue, or other soft tissues. Cause infections by accidentally pushing tartar under the gumline. Leave the tools to the professionals to make your teeth last longer without problems that are self-generated.

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What should I use to remove plaque?

There are many oral health care products including those earning the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

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For a recommendation on the best product for your own dental health care, as well as for coaching on how to get the best results, talk to your dental professional to find the best adjuncts for your own situation.