What is plaque?Your mouth and tooth crevices contain naturally occurring and usually harmless bacteria. When teeth are not brushed regularly and when combined with sugars from food and drink particles such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose, this bacteria forms a thick film in and around the teeth which begins to produce acids that are harmful to teeth. This thick accumulation is called dental plaque. You may recognise plaque as that off-white or yellow-ish, gunky stuff that your dentist always scrapes off your teeth with a pick, no matter how carefully you brushed your teeth before your dentist visit! Try it now, have a look an a mirror at your teeth and see if you can spot any plaque in between them or along the gum line.
How damaging is plaque?There are many good reasons to make sure dental plaque is removed regularly.
Plaque build up can irritate and inflame the gums which over time can lead to gingivitis and gum disease. If you do not remove plaque entirely, it can become mineralised and turn hard. This hardened plaque build up is known as tartar and will need removing with a dental pik or maybe a visit to an oral hygienist. (Always check with your dentist first).
The acids emitted by the plaque "eat away" at the tooth's enamel and into the calcified layers underneath. The longer plaque is left, the enamel and dentin start breaking down - this is tooth decay which can be identified by dark brown & black areas on the teeth and can develop large tooth cavities (holes). If these cavities are given the chance to deepen, the affected tooth usually becomes highly sensitive and causes much pain / toothache. If left untreated, infection can develop within the cavities and/or gum line which may evolve into a dental abscess. Teeth can become so rotten that in severe cases, teeth either have to be removed or they fall out.
It maybe useful at this point to mention bad breath which is caused by bacteria in the mouth (and sometimes throat). Also, certain foods leave residues and oils in the mouth that cause strong odours if not removed properly. Bad Breath is often a by-product of bad oral hygiene. However, bad breath can also develop from other causes, e.g. the common cold, skipping meals, dry mouth or by smoking.
The tongue holds more bacteria than any other area in the mouth, due to its uneven texture. Bad breath caused by bacteria and strong food can be prevented by using a tongue cleaner after brushing your teeth every day. An anti-bacterial mouthwash can also help.
If you thoroughly remove plaque and look after your teeth, you can prevent these problems from happening.
Checking for plaque...Plaque knows where to hide in your mouth even if you think you have brushed your teeth thoroughly. One top tip to get you started is to try disclosing tablets after you brush your teeth. Chew one tablet and then rinse out your mouth in the sink. The tablets dye any plaque still in the mouth. The dyed areas reveal where you have missed hidden plaque.
You may then like to try a dentist's mirror and pik. With these you can use the long mirror to get a good look at the back of your mouth. The pik is used to scrape out plaque and tartar from nooks and crannies in and around the teeth.
How to prevent the build up?Plaque builds up around the teeth within a 24 hour period. This is why it is so important to remove it by brushing and caring for your teeth every day, preferably first thing in the morning and before bed. For a full, clean mouth experience, it is best to figure out a daily oral hygiene routine:
Where would you like to go next?
- Firstly, find a suitable toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are highly recommended as they are more powerful and offer more strokes per minute then a manual brush.
No matter what brush you choose, make sure you gently brush for 3 minutes, ensuring that you brush all of your teeth; front, back, top, bottom, inside, outside and in-between. It is suggested by dentists that the best angle to brush is at 45°s along the gum line (taking care not to be too hard on the pressure) and then to use slow, circular motions over the teeth.
- Flossing is just as important as brushing and should be done once a day. Plaque and food debris becomes built up in-between the gaps and it is in these crevices, that bacteria breeds and the problems begin. Dental floss is simple to use and will only take 10 minutes to thoroughly clean in and out of your teeth. All you need to do is take a piece of dental tape and curl it into a loop (or use one of the pre-made flossers) and gently guide it right down in-between each tooth. If your gums bleed a little bit when you floss for the first few times, do not worry this is quite normal.
- Similar to flossing, there are interdental picks and dental scalers that are available with a long handled mirror. These are great at reaching far into the back of the mouth and getting into cavities, nooks and crannies that floss simply can't get to.
- Tongue cleaning is often ignored whilst maintaining good oral health. The tongue has a rough, uneven texture that holds the most amount of bacteria inside the mouth. If you are worried about bad breath, it is definitely recommended that you clean your tongue each time you clean your teeth. This can be done with a tongue brush or tongue scraper. Also, some manual brushes are now being designed with an incorporated tongue cleaner.
- Once you have cleaned in and around your teeth, why not finish off your routine with a mouthwash. There are different types of mouth rinse depending on your preferences. Some contain added fluoride, some are alcohol free whilst others have an antibacterial action. These antibacterial mouthwashes are excellent at killing plaque causing bacteria, thus helping to prevent gum disease, tooth decay and bad breath. The antibacterial mouth rinses vary in strengths and some are capable of helping to prevent mouth ulcers and oral thrush.
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Oral conditions: Toothache • Gingivitis • Oral Thrush • Dry Mouth • Bad Breath •