Dental plaque is also known as tooth plaque or dental biofilm.
Did you know tooth plaque is the main cause of several diseases related to teeth and gums seen in most of the population nowadays? Plaque if not attended at the right time can be a major problem later. Let’s try to know what dental plaque is, why it is important to know about it and how to get rid of it.
What is Dental Plaque?
As you may already be knowing there are a large number of microorganisms that take shelter in our mouths thanks to the ready availability of water and nutrients. Our mouth also acts as the perfect site for the growth and development of these microorganisms by providing the optimum temperature. These microorganisms which possess a unique ecological relationship with the host (which is us), are called microbial flora.
Dental plaque is a layer of sticky biofilm formed on the tooth surface by this microbial flora of the mouth. As the bacterial flora is the main component of the dental plaque, it is also called bacterial plaque or microbial plaque.
The layer of saliva formed on the freshly cleaned tooth surface or a new tooth called pellicle acts as a base for the microbes in the mouth, to get attached to the tooth surface.
So the formation of the dental pellicle is the first step in the plaque formation process. This pellicle forms on the tooth surface and gives bacteria a surface to attach. At the next stage, usually within a few hours, the bacteria start to loosely attach to this pellicle. This is the adhesion phase.
From this attachment site, bacteria start to proliferate and spread throughout the mouth in the next phase of proliferation.
At later phases, these microorganisms form microcolonies which later evolve into complex groups for metabolic purposes. These microbes later grow and multiply to finally form the dental plaque.
Initially, the plaque is colorless and soft. Sometimes it may be lightly yellowish too. If left unattended the plaque turns into a hard structure, also called calculus or tartar which may be brownish in color.
Microbial plaque can form on the tooth surface, near the gum lines, especially in between two teeth, near any filling, on the occlusal surfaces in the grooves and pits of the teeth and also below the gum line into the deep pockets of the tooth.
Types of Dental Plaque
Based on the location the plaque can be classified into two types.
The Supragingival Plaque
The plaque formed around the gumline and above is called the supragingival plaque. The microbes found in supragingival plaque are aerobic bacteria. These are the bacteria which need oxygen for survival and which cease to exist in the absence of O2.
The Subgingival Plaque
The plaque which is below the gumline extending into the pockets of the tooth or the root region is called the subgingival plaque. In this variety of plaque, there are mainly anaerobic bacteria present. These are the bacteria which can survive even in the absence of oxygen.
How to Detect Tooth Plaque?
Plaque is usually not visible in the initial stages of its formation. But after a few hours, a light yellow layer is clinically visible.
The dentist uses probes to scrape the surface of the tooth to clinically see the plaque. There are a variety of plaque disclosing gels and tablets available in the market today, which come in handy for detecting dental plaque.
These disclosing gels or tablets when used show the attached plaque by dyeing the plaque surface with a different color. These agents are used in dental offices for clinical purposes where certain procedures like orthodontic treatment, need a clean tooth surface.
These plaque disclosing agents are also used for educational purposes to study the plaque and its growth. The disclosing agents are better avoided for home use as the agents may cause allergy in some. This test should be done under professional supervision only.
How Does Dental Plaque Harm the Tooth?
The effect of dental plaque can be different in different persons, depending on various factors such as the pH of the saliva, oral hygiene, immunity, diet etc.
The teeth plaque formed if left unattended for a long time, just because you failed to brush your teeth or gargle well after food intake, the bacteria in the plaque may start causing damages to the teeth structure. These bacteria later multiply causing an array of oral diseases depending on the individual’s oral environment and immunity.
The plaque progresses to form calculus later, which is harder to be removed by brushing alone. The calculus thus formed damages the gingiva or the gum, causing inflammation known as gingivitis. If this gingivitis is left untreated, it may progress further into the periodontium causing periodontitis, which is far worse than gingivitis that involves bone loss.
Also, the acid-producing plaque bacteria mainly in the pits and fissures of the teeth act on the sugary food remnants to break down the tooth structure to form dental caries or tooth decay.
How to Remove Tooth Plaque?
Now that you know what a dental plaque is, it should be relatively easier to manage it. Following are some of the ways with which you can keep your mouth free of bacterial plaque.
- Oral hygiene maintenance is very important in controlling plaque induced oral diseases.
- Brushing your teeth twice a day using soft-bristled toothbrush is important. Brushing should be done once in the morning and once at night before sleep.
- Use of interdental aids like dental floss, interdental brushes to clean food debris from the interdental spaces of the teeth is necessary.
- Swishing your mouth with water within a few minutes of eating or drinking any food is a good way to keep plaque bacteria at bay.
- If you notice hard calculus which is not coming off with normal brushing, its best to visit a dentist for a dental cleaning procedure.
- Use of correct brushing technique is vital for the proper removal of plaque from the tooth surfaces. Here is an article which shows the correct brushing technique recommended by dentists worldwide.
Dental plaque is found in everyone, not just humans even animals do have them. So there is no way we can stop it from building up in our mouths. But what we can do instead, is manage the condition properly.
It depends on you whether you want to maintain good oral hygiene by keeping your oral cavity clean or you want to let the plaque grow which may later cause damage to your teeth and oral tissues.
The choice is yours!