It can be one of the singularly most unpleasant sensations in the world (or at least in your mouth)—that feeling of a furry coating on your teeth. It can happen first thing in the morning, particularly if you didn’t get a chance to brush the night before. It can happen after chowing down on a bunch of candy, maybe after a Halloween party. Maybe you’ve experienced it after sipping a soda or another sugar-sweetened beverage. It can even happen over the course of a day of your normal eating habits and patterns. If you’ve had to fight the feeling that your teeth are wearing fuzzy socks, you’ve likely wondered what caused your teeth to grow that coating. Moreover, you’re probably very interested in how to get rid of it and how to keep it happening again. If you haven’t guessed yet, that coating is plaque, and you definitely have options and tools available to you to keep it from making your days miserable or damaging your oral health.
So What is Plaque?
Plaque is a common word for biofilm, the collection of all the bacteria in your mouth that grows every day, feeding on the foods that you eat and growing together. It’s important to note that a biofilm is different from individual bacteria floating loose in your mouth. Bacteria in a biofilm share resources and grow together. Bacteria in a biofilm become firmly entrenched, difficult to get rid of, as they grow together and build up a network for defense and sharing resources. Think of it this way: a knight in armor standing in a field by himself is a great deal easier to deal with than a group of knights in a stone tower, defending the structure they built up for mutual defense. That heavy feeling on your teeth is the bacterial equivalent of a stone defensive wall full of knights.
Why Does Plaque Grow?
Just like there are bacteria that live on the surface of your skin and that live in your digestive system, there are bacteria that live inside your mouth. The bacteria in your mouth, like all living things, need to eat. Luckily for them, you need to eat as well, and the foods that you eat become the food that they eat. When you eat a diet rich in sugars and starchy foods, the bacteria in your mouth thrive, since carbohydrates are their preferred diets. The bacteria feast on sugary foods and pump out acid as a result of digestion. The more often you eat, the more often the bacteria eat. The more often you eat starchy food, the longer your mouth remains acidic, and that is bad news for your oral health.
Why is it Bad to Have Lots of Plaque Acids?
Plaque acid is dangerous to your enamel. Your tooth enamel protects the inner structures of your teeth. It also is susceptible to damage from acid; the minerals from your enamel dissolve in acid environments. When enamel dissolves and the minerals are not redeposited because the environment in your mouth stays too acidic, you develop cavities. It’s also dangerous for your gum health to have high acid environments. Studies have shown a correlation between chronic low pH (acid) levels in the mouth and advanced gum disease.
So What Can You Do to Minimize Plaque Formation?
You will grow plaque every day because the human mouth is not and cannot be a sterile, bacteria-free environment. The best ways to handle plaque are to remove it regularly and make your oral environment unfriendly for caries causing bacteria.
You probably know the tools for removing plaque daily. Brush at least twice a day, every day to remove plaque from your tooth, cheek, and tongue surfaces. Floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. Regular cleanings and checkups at your dentist’s office are also important to keep plaque at bay. Plaque that is not removed regularly hardens into tartar, which cannot be readily brushed away at home, so daily vigilance is necessary to maintain good oral health.
To make your oral environment hostile to caries-causing bacteria, take simple steps to make it harder for them to grow. The more often you eat, the more often they eat. So, whenever possible, restrict your eating to mealtimes and skip snacking between meals. It’s a simple way to restrict the bacterial growth potential. Also, consider switching to high pH oral care products for your daily cleansing routine. They can help keep your oral environment unfriendly for bacterial growth while helping with the mechanical removal.
Finally, if you feel that you have more plaque than you should or if you are concerned, talk to your dental care team about your caries risk and plaque levels at your next visit. With some simple lifestyle choices, you can control the growth of your oral plaque and feel comfortable, not crazy.