What Is Dental Plaque and How Can It Be Prevented?

Dental plaque can lead to a host of oral health problems if left untreated. It’s important to treat and remove dental plaque as soon as possible to prevent it from turning into tartar and leading to decay. Regular dental checkups and cleanings combined with a healthy dental care routine can easily help you manage plaque buildup on your teeth.

dental plaque

What Is Dental Plaque?

Also known as dental biofilm, tooth plaque and microbial plaque, dental plaque is a combination of saliva, food, and liquids that create deposits on your teeth. These deposits manifest in the form of a sticky, pale yellow film that builds up on your teeth, particularly between teeth and along your gum line. It’s most noticeable when you first wake up in the morning before brushing your teeth.

Continued plaque buildup is very harmful to your dental health. It allows bacteria to stick to the teeth and the bacteria use the contents of the plaque to an acid that eats away at your tooth enamel (the hard outer shell that protects your teeth from tooth decay and infection). Tooth enamel is considered to be the hardest mineral substance in the human body; it’s even stronger than bone. But once your enamel has been eroded or damaged, it can’t be repaired or replaced. Depleted tooth enamel can cause tooth sensitivity, pain and a number of other preventable dental and oral problems.

Plaque is easily treatable and preventable with a strict dental care routine that includes regular trips to the dentist, brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing every night before bed and using an alcohol-free mouthwash. If left untreated for too long or no pre-emptive action is taken, the damage caused by plaque is irreversible and can be extremely harmful to your overall physical health. Plaque bacteria thrive on the foods and drinks you consume on a daily basis, so it’s important to maintain a healthy dental care routine as recommended by your dentist.

What Causes Dental Plaque and Tartar Buildup?

Now that you know what dental plaque is, it’s important to learn about tartar buildup and how it works. Tartar is caused by a failure to adequately manage and remove the bacteria-causing plaque in your mouth. Plaque buildup can directly causes tartar formation when your saliva constantly intermingles with the leftover particles from the food and beverages you consume on a daily basis.

Eventually, minerals from these substances are deposited into the plaque biofilm on your teeth. Within 24 to 72 hours, that biofilm hardens, may turn black and firmly adheres to the surface of your teeth. That’s what’s known as tartar.

Tartar sticks to your teeth even more than plaque and can therefore only successfully be removed by a dentist or dental health professional through extensive cleaning. The following dental appliances, conditions and bad habits can contribute to and increase your chances of developing plaque and tartar buildup over time:

  • Braces
  • Dry mouth
  • Smoking
  • Crowded teeth
  • Aging
  • Not brushing or flossing your teeth often enough
  • Eating too many foods that are high in sugar
  • Eating a lot of ‘sticky’ foods, e.g. dried fruits, candy, etc.

Plaque bacteria is often most prevalent in individuals who regularly consume a carbohydrate-heavy diet full of simple or processed sugars, including starches and sucrose, which are found in soft drinks, animal-produced milk, candy, fruit and baked goods.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid plaque and tartar buildup entirely because that would entail avoiding most foods—even some healthy options such as fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a consistent dental health routine can certainly prevent plaque and tartar buildup and curb your chances of developing advanced gum disease as a result.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dental Plaque?

While plaque and tartar buildup aren’t illnesses or dental conditions in and of themselves, they can lead to advanced gum disease, also known as periodontal disease and other oral and physical health problems over time. Additionally, there are some symptoms that may be caused by or associated with advanced plaque and tartar buildup on your teeth and gum lines, including:


Cavities (also known as tooth decay or caries) are permanently damaged surface areas on your teeth that can develop into holes caused by bacteria, lack of adequate dental care, as well as frequent eating and consuming sugary substances.

Persistent Bad Breath

Also known as halitosis, persistent bad breath isn’t just an embarrassing condition—it’s also a sign of potential tooth decay or gum disease. Since plaque is made of harmful bacteria that feed off of leftover food and beverage particles in your mouth, it can also produce a permanent foul odour if it’s not treated properly. Morning breath is one thing, but if you notice that your bad breath persists throughout the day no matter what you do, then you should make a dental appointment for a checkup and cleaning right away.


Common in most adults, gingivitis is a mild form of early gum or periodontal disease that mostly affects your gum lines (where your gums and teeth meet). Signs of gingivitis include gum inflammation (redness and swelling), bleeding while brushing, tenderness and irritation.

How to Prevent Dental Plaque Buildup

Preventing dental plaque buildup is fairly simple. As mentioned though, plaque buildup isn’t always completely avoidable because at the end of the day, you do have to eat and drink beverages some time.

Establish Good Oral Hygiene Habits

As plaque can develop throughout the day and night it is important to brush teeth at least twice a day. Consider using a high percentage fluoride toothpaste for best results. Brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush can protect the gums and enamel while cleaning the tooth surface. Use gentle circular motions with the toothbrush angled at 45 degrees for proper cleaning.

In addition, use floss at least once a day, or after meals, as an extra support to brushing to remove tiny food particles that can settle into the spaces between the teeth. Use an alcohol-free antimicrobial mouthwash to help remove food particles while reducing plaque buildup.

Adapt to a Healthy Diet

How can you prevent dental plaque build up naturally? Avoid the unnecessary consumption of processed sugars and carbohydrates like soft drinks and baked goods as much as possible. Fruits, vegetables, and dairy products help to remove plaque with the abundant amount of antioxidant vitamins. Fresh apples, carrots, berries and collard greens are also filled with the highest forms of fiber to help protect the teeth and gums from plaque developing.

Snacking throughout the day can increase the risk of plaque forming, leading to hardening of the sticky substance. Tooth-friendly snacks include apples and peanut butter, cheese, whole-grain crackers, yogurt, and cottage cheese. If chips, sweets, candy, and sugary beverages are consumed, be sure to rinse mouth with water afterwards.

Schedule Regular Dental Check-Ups and Cleanings

Have your oral hygienist clean and remove plaque from your teeth at least once every six months.Regular visits to a dentist office reduce the buildup of plaque as specialized tools, such as a scaler, are used to properly remove hardened plaque, also known as tartar.

Talk to your oral hygienist or dentist about the dangers of plaque on your oral health as well as your overall health. Perform daily inspections of the teeth and gums to ensure plaque buildup does not evolve into tartar. Use a small mirror to check hard-to-see areas in the back of the mouth. You can also use at-home oral products and methods to remove plaque, such as brushing with specific toothpastes and using a water flosser.

Dental Plaque Treatment Options

At Princeview Dental Group, we recommend scheduling dental cleanings and checkups at least once every six months depending on your specific needs to supplement your at-home dental care routine. Our dental staff can make personalized dental care recommendations during your regular checkups. Book your appointment today to find out how you can improve your dental health and prevent plaque and tartar buildup!

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