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HomeHealth articlesdental plaqueDental Plaque | Causes | Risks | Side Effects | Prevention

Dental Plaque - Causes, Risks, Side Effects and Prevention

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A slimy coating loaded with bacteria formed on the tooth surface when it lacks hygiene is called a dental plaque. Read the article below to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At May 26, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 26, 2023

What Is Dental Plaque?

It is bothersome to rinse the mouth after every snack, right? Well, not rinsing can form a sticky layer that influences the teeth towards a bad side. This slimy layer named dental plaque is a normally occurring tooth-associated problem that sets a base for anything beyond normal happening in the oral cavity. Keeping it from building up is the first and foremost to maintaining good oral hygiene, as a hardened dental plaque is not something that can be managed with home care. Read further for the causes, risk factors, prevention, and management of dental plaque.

How Does a Dental Plaque Develop?

The mouth normally contains a wide range of good and bad bacteria. When a person fails to rinse the mouth after eating sticky-natured food, predominantly the food containing carbohydrates and sugars, the bad bacterial level in the mouth increases. These bacteria combine with the stuck food and form acids, which results in a sticky layer covering the teeth, and gums called dental plaque.

What Are the Causes of Dental Plaque Formation?

Plaque formation can result due to:

  • Poor oral hygiene.

  • Wrong brushing techniques and insufficient or faulty oral hygiene practices.

  • Plaque formation happens in a shorter period when there is less saliva production (dry mouth) or ropey saliva production.

  • During sleep, the bacterial level in our mouth is more than when awake as the mouth is at rest and not functioning while we sleep. Therefore, plaque formation during sleep is inevitable.

Who Is at High Risk of Plaque Formation?

Generally, plaque can form in any mouth. But, certain conditions favor higher incidence rates, such as;

  • A person who has less importance for oral hygiene accumulates plaque eventually.

  • Patients undergoing chemo or radiation therapies have a drug mouth as a complication, which favors plaque buildup.

  • Conditions like diabetes, Sjogren's syndrome, etc., or a drug’s side effects cause dry mouth. Also, some people have naturally low saliva production, which puts them at the risk of relatively more plaque formation.

  • Immunocompromised individuals, those who have difficulty maintaining oral hygiene, and those who depend on others for maintenance, like mentally disabled individuals, have more risk of plaque buildup.

What Are the Ill Effects of Plaque Formation?

The dental plaque, when left unremoved, can progress into a harder and more problematic mineral deposit called the tartar or calculus which basically is a calcified form of plaque that causes multiple damages to teeth.

  • The very prevalent ill-effect of dental plaque is tooth decay.

  • Gum disease can occur when the plaque keeps building up. It can progress into either gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or periodontitis (more pronounced gum disease with periodontal inflammation, a structure that surrounds and holds the tooth in place).

  • Tooth infections and abscesses can result in more severe cases.

  • Plaque can build up subgingivally (below the gums) as well, involving the root portions of the teeth, which go unnoticed and damage the tooth root and even the underlying bone. The subgingival plaque has even caused major health complications, as per studies.

  • Dental plaque, due to its microbial content, can cause infections in the oral tissues and damage them.

How to Remove Dental Plaque?

Early plaque goes off by normal everyday hygiene practices like brushing, flossing, and mouth rinsing using a mouthwash as and when it is noticed. Leaving it unattended for a long period will lead to calcification called the dental calculus or tartar, which does not go with normal brushing or flossing. In such cases, only a professional dentist or a dental hygienist can remove the calcified plaque or calculus by a procedure called scaling (professional cleaning).

How to Prevent Dental Plaque Formation?

Hygiene is the only set standard to keep teeth from getting a plaque. Following are some everyday habits that need to be done to prevent plaque;

  • Rinsing: Mouth rinsing after every meal and even a snack is very important in preventing plaque. When eating food containing sugars and carbohydrates, the chances of food getting stuck in the teeth are more; thorough rinsing can wash off the food debris to an extent.

  • Diet Alterations: Minimize foods that hamper oral health, such as sticky food, food containing artificial sweeteners, carbohydrate-rich foods, etc. Even if taken, do not forget to rinse and follow the necessary oral hygiene practices.

  • Brushing: To brush twice a day by now has become a tooth mantra that everybody should follow not just to prevent plaque but to prevent every other dental trouble.

  • Flossing: Floss once a day. It is a must-do though many people are not aware of the importance of flossing. It is an effective way to fight many tooth problems.

  • Mouthwash: Mouthwashes though not an everyday necessity, need to be used when your mouth condition demands. In a person suffering from dry mouth, alcohol-containing mouthwashes should not be used as they can worsen dry mouth.

  • Sugarless Gums and Candies: As dry mouth is a causative factor in plaque formation, fighting dry mouth is equally important as controlling plaque. Chewing sugarless gums and sucking sugarless candies come into the act of stimulating salivary production in people with dry mouths. These are the best ways to fight plaque if the cause is less salivary production.

  • Dental Visit: Last but the most important tip to preventing plaque is getting the oral cavity examined by a professional at regular intervals. An oral examination or a dental checkup is mandatory once in six months or a year for a problem-free oral cavity.


Plaque by itself is not a serious tooth problem and can be managed with home remedies easily. But when ignored initially, plaque can hamper oral health and create maximal damage, including tooth loss. So, noticing a thin film and removing it immediately will prevent all of its following complications. Also, knowing the importance of at-home oral hygiene and periodic dental visits is a must to detect anything at its initial stage with just a mirror. Plaque prevention indeed is better than requiring a dental cure.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Ways to Remove Plaque From the Teeth?

Dental plaque can be removed by normal oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing regularly. But, when dental plaque is left unattended for quite some time, it calcifies and hardens. In such cases, an in-office dental cleaning (scaling) is required for its removal.


How Is a Hardened Plaque Removed by the Dentist?

Hardened plaque, also called the tartar or calculus, is removed by a dental professional by a procedure called scaling, which is an in-office professional cleaning procedure. Scaling is performed using handheld instruments called hand scalers or using ultrasonic scalers. When there is hardened plaque below the gum level, a deep cleaning (root planing) might be required.


How Is Hardened Dental Plaque Dissolved?

Hardened dental plaque or tartar can be softened to an extent using certain mouthwashes, but they cannot dissolve them completely. The only way to remove hardened dental plaque is to break them mechanically using ultrasonic scalers.


How Does Dental Plaque Differ From Tartar?

Dental plaque is a thin, slimy, yellowish deposit that forms on the teeth and gums surface when a person fails to rinse the mouth after consuming food. It can be easily removed by brushing and flossing. At the same time, tartar is a calcified and hardened form of dental plaque that is difficult to be removed by normal hygiene procedures done at home and requires professional cleaning for removal.


Can Dental Plaque Be Scrapped off From Teeth?

Dental plaque, which is soft and thin, can be removed by regular brushing and flossing and does not require any other procedures to scrape it off.


Is Dental Plaque Bad for Your Health?

Severe plaque buildup sometimes is an indicator of underlying health issues. Such as, in the case of diabetes, there can be decreased saliva production which easily results in severe plaque buildup. So, a dental visit at least once in six months is important for good oral health and to rule out the underlying diseases at the earlier stages.


Is It Possible for a Tooth Infection to Affect Other Body Parts?

Yes, tooth infection, if left untreated, can spread to other body parts leading to sepsis and even death.


Which Are the Bacteria Present in Dental Plaque?

Streptococcus and Lactobacillus species are the two major bacterial species present in the dental plaque.


How Do Teeth Connect With the Heart̉?

- There have been studied links between periodontal disease and heart diseases, and researchers say that gum disease is a major indicator of heart disease. It is also said that oral infections can be transported to the heart through the bloodstream. In contrast, some claim that there is no connection, but certain factors causing both these diseases are similar, leading to this conclusion.
- Also, the presence of calcium in the teeth has been linked to heart diseases as the calcium deposition in the arteries can cause heart diseases.


Can You Leave a Tooth Infection Untreated for So Long?

When left untreated or unnoticed, a tooth infection can cause severe complications in the body. It can result in difficulty swallowing, fever, infection in the underlying bone, can cause sepsis, and in severe cases, even death.
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Dr. Liana J X Beatrice
Dr. Liana J X Beatrice



dental plaque
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