What is Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?

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Plaque is a substance that forms naturally on your teeth all the time. If you were to run your tongue along your teeth this very moment, chances are you’ll feel the accumulation of film. Brushing and flossing will help to get rid of this stuff, but it’s an ongoing process that takes regular oral care.

What is Plaque?

Plaque is a bacteria-filled sticky film that builds up on your teeth. It continuously forms on your teeth since you always have bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria continue to rapidly multiply, particularly if you’re eating sugary foods. And, the bacteria keeps growing and spreading with each meal you eat.

Plaque requires:

  • Food particles
  • Bacteria
  • Carbohydrates
  • Saliva

After you consume food with carbohydrates, these carbs combine with the natural bacteria in your mouth and create an acid. This acid then turns around and combines with your saliva and old food particles creating the hard and sticky microbial substance we call plaque.

What Harm Can Plaque Do to your Mouth and Body?

If you don’t brush and floss regularly to continue removing the plaque, it eventually hardens into tarter, making it even harder to keep your teeth clean and leading to a variety of dental issues, which may include dental cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and potentially other health conditions.

Dental Cavities

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), without daily brushing, over time, the acids start eating right through your tooth enamel, damaging it and causes cavities (tooth decay).

The yellow and sticky material on your teeth is biofilm. Biofilm can harm the surfaces of your mouths:

  • Gums
  • Teeth
  • Bones
  • Ligaments

When the plaque’s bacteria cause tooth decay or cavities, you require dental treatment as soon as possible. If treated early, the dentist can easily treat small cavities and repair them with a teeth-colored composite material. But, if left untreated, these small cavities can get bigger, cause infections and lead to more severe problems.

Gum Disease

The NIDCR also says plaque close to your gum line can also cause a mild gum disease called gingivitis. When you have gingivitis, your gums may become inflamed, irritated, and swell. They may also bleed, particularly when you brush and floss your teeth. As gingivitis advances, it can lead to periodontitis, which is a more serious condition because it damages gum tissue and destroys bones that are responsible for supporting your teeth.


Periodontitis is a severe type of gum disease that damages the bone and soft tissues supporting your teeth. With this condition, your gums pull away from your teeth forming pockets or spaces that become infected. Without treatment, your gums, tissue and bones supporting your teeth are destroyed causing your teeth to become loose, requiring removal.

Health Conditions

Much research shows inflammation and bacteria in your mouth are also associated with other health issues. As of today, researchers have found a link between periodontitis and numerous health conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Premature birth
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Dementia

While experts aren’t quite sure how periodontitis links with these types of health conditions, they do believe bacteria in your mouth can release into your bloodstream and injure your organs.

Preventing Plaque Build-up

Unfortunately, you’ll always form plaque in your mouth and you can’t completely prevent its formation. But, there are things you can do to keep the plaque from hanging around on your teeth causing problems. Some steps you should take to prevent plaque build-up include:

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day: The brushing eliminates plaque from your teeth, keeping it from building up
  2. Floss daily: Flossing reaches the plaque that forms between your teeth and other hard-to-reach areas
  3. Regulate your diet: Eat healthy and balanced meals to reduce plaque formation on your teeth

Book a dental appointment every six months for a thorough cleaning by the hygienist. Thorough professional cleanings help prevent the build-up of plaque. Regular checkups and dental treatment from a dentist will also ensure your mouth, gums and teeth are healthy and free of gum disease, cavities, periodontitis and other oral problems.


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