Plaque and Calculus

What Causes Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?

Plaque is the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on teeth. It makes teeth “feel fuzzy” to the tongue and is most noticeable when teeth are not brushed.

Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, soft drinks, fruits, cakes, or lollies are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause breakdown of the bone supporting the tooth leading to gingivitis and periodontitis.

What is calculus (tartar) and why is it a concern?

Plaque leads to problems for your teeth and gums, however a bigger problem arises if plaque is allowed to remain on your teeth and harden. That can happen after just 26 hours. When this occurs, the plaque hardens into tartar, or dental calculus. Because it has mineralized onto your teeth, calculus is far more difficult to remove than plaque.

What effect do calculus (tartar) have on teeth and gums?

Once tartar forms on your teeth, it may be more difficult for you to brush and floss your teeth effectively. If this is the case, the acids released by the bacteria in your mouth are more likely to break down your tooth enamel. That leads to cavities and tooth decay. Studies estimate that more than 90% percent of adults over the age of 40 have some form of tooth decay.

Calculus that develops around the gum line can be especially serious. That’s because the bacteria it harbors may irritate and damage your gums. Over time, this inflammation can lead to progressive gum disease. Gum disease can have serious consequences if left untreated.

The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. This is the initial stage of gum inflammation caused by the presence of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Gingivitis can usually be stopped and reversed with careful brushing, flossing, and regular cleanings by dental professionals.

If tartar is not removed and gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress into a more serious form of gum disease. That more serious form is known as periodontitis. With this gum disease, pockets form between the gums and teeth. Those pockets become infected by bacteria beneath the gums. The body’s immune system releases chemicals to fight the bacteria. These chemicals along with the substances the bacteria release can damage the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. This can lead ultimately to bone degradation and tooth loss. In addition, studies have shown that bacteria in gum disease may contribute to heart disease and stroke.

How Can Plaque and Calculus Formation Be Prevented?

  • To prevent plaque buildup, brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft, rounded-tip bristled toothbrush, or an Oral B Braun electric Plaque Remover. Pay particular attention to the space where the gums and teeth meet. Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
  • Floss between teeth at least once a day to remove food particles and bacteria.
  • See your dentist or oral hygienist every 6 months for a check-up and teeth cleaning.
  • Ask your dentist if a fissure sealant is appropriate for you. Fissure sealants are a thin, plastic coating that are painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth to protect them from cavities and decay.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit the number of between-meal snacks especially sugar containing foods. If you need a snack, choose nutritious foods such as plain yogurt, cheese, or raw vegetables. Vegetables, such as celery, help remove food and help saliva neutralize plaque-causing acids.