Rendering of removing plaque from teeth with an ultrasonic descaler.

How to Remove Plaque on Teeth

One of the most critical aspects of oral health is the removal of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food residue that accumulates on the teeth. If left unchecked, plaque can lead to cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. 

The detrimental effects of plaque are not limited to the mouth. Studies have linked poor oral health to systemic diseases including heart disease and diabetes. 

But that’s not all – if plaque is not removed within 72 hours, it can harden into tartar, which is even more challenging to remove and can cause further damage to your teeth and gums.

In this blog, we will delve into the factors contributing to plaque buildup, explore effective techniques for plaque removal, and discuss the importance of regular dental visits for plaque evaluation and preventive care.

Understanding Plaque Formation

Plaque is a sticky biofilm that forms on teeth when certain oral bacteria strains mix with saliva and food particles. 

Plaque makes it easier for oral bacteria to attach to teeth surfaces. The bacteria multiply as they feed on sugars and carbohydrates from your food, producing acids. Those acids can break down the enamel leading to tooth decay and various oral health problems.  

Factors That Contribute To Plaque Buildup

Everyone has dental plaque since it constantly builds up on teeth. However, certain factors can accelerate plaque formation. They include the following: 

  • Sugary and starchy foods: Oral bacteria thrive from feeding on the sugars and starch from your food. Consuming such foods without practicing proper oral hygiene allows the bacteria to multiply, leading to rapid dental plaque buildup.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Since oral bacteria feed on food residue, failing to brush or floss your teeth regularly contributes to plaque formation. Also, using improper brushing or flossing techniques can lead to plaque buildup, especially in the hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
  • Smoking: Not only does cigarette smoke irritate the gums and reduce blood flow to the mouth, but it also inhibits saliva production, making it easier for plaque to form on teeth.
  • Medication: Certain medications such as anticholinergics and antihistamines can decrease saliva production, making your mouth susceptible to plaque formation.

Effective Techniques for Plaque Removal

Fact: Plaque is a significant cause of most oral health problems. Thankfully, there are various oral hygiene practices to remove and manage dental plaque buildup. They include the following: 

Brushing Techniques

Using the proper tooth brushing technique is arguably the most effective way of removing plaque on teeth. Since plaque thrives in hard-to-reach mouth areas such as the back molars, you can prevent plaque buildup by incorporating the toothbrushing tips listed below. 

  • Proper brushing technique: You can apply Stillman’s brushing technique to remove plaque above the gumline. It involves angling the toothbrush 45 degrees toward your gum line and brushing with short, light horizontal movements.
  • Use a soft-bristle brush: Though it may seem that a hard-bristle brush is more effective at plaque removal, it may cause damage to your enamel and gums. Instead, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste for the best results.
  • Follow the 2/2 brushing rule: You should brush your teeth twice daily for at least two minutes to remove plaque buildup. Don’t overdo it. Frequent tooth brushing daily is counterproductive since you may end up irritating your gums and damaging your teeth.
  • Brush all tooth surfaces and the gum line: Plaque accumulates on the back molars and builds up on the gum line and the back surfaces of your teeth. Using the proper brushing technique is the most effective way of cleaning all tooth surfaces and preventing plaque buildup beneath your gum line.

Flossing and Interdental Cleaning

Sadly, flossing is often overlooked as a plaque removal technique. Incorporating the following flossing tips into your dental care routine will improve oral health by preventing plaque buildup in interdental spaces.

Demonstration of Proper Flossing Technique

  • Cut off about 20 inches of floss and wrap most of it around each middle finger leaving about 2 inches of floss to clean with.
  • Hold the floss tautly between your thumbs and index fingers and gently slide it up and down beneath your teeth.
  • Gently curve the floss around the base of each tooth to clean beneath the gum line. Do not snap the dental floss to avoid bruising your gums.
  • Repeat the process for your remaining teeth making sure you use a clean section of floss for each tooth.

Interdental Cleaning Tools

Undoubtedly, flossing is an effective interdental cleaning technique. However, you can try out the interdental cleaning tools mentioned below if flossing is time-consuming or challenging to perform correctly. 

  • Interdental brushes: These small, cone-shaped brushes have thin bristles that remove plaque from interdental spaces and around braces .
  • Dental picks: These are small pointed dental tools made of plastic or wood. Some dental picks have a rubber tip for stimulating the gums. You may find them easier to use than dental floss, especially if you have braces or dental implants.
  • Water flossers: Water flossers use a stream of water to clean plaque from spaces between the teeth and along the gum line. They are a better alternative to flossing if you have dental implants, braces, or bridges. 

Mouthwash and Rinse

Mouthwash, also known as oral rinse, contains essential oils, fluoride, and antimicrobial agents like chlorhexidine that contribute to plaque removal by significantly reducing the number of oral bacteria. Rinsing regularly with mouthwash can also help freshen your breath and encourage saliva flow. 

Though mouthwash reaches oral areas that are impossible to clean through brushing and flossing, it can’t be used as a substitute for these dental hygiene techniques. 

Types of Mouthwash

There are various types of mouthwash available, each designed to take care of specific oral health issues. Some common types of oral rinse include: 

  • Antiseptic mouthwash: This type of mouthwash contains chlorhexidine gluconate and alcohol, which can help combat halitosis and prevent gingivitis and other oral infections.
  • Whitening mouthwash: Whitening mouthwash is designed to improve the aesthetic appeal of your teeth. It contains whitening agents that help remove surface stains from teeth.
  • Natural mouthwash: Natural mouthwash is ideal if you are sensitive to the chemicals and additives found in other types of oral rinse. It contains natural ingredients like essential oils and herbs, making it effective at plaque removal while being gentle on your mouth.
  • Prescription mouthwash: As its name suggests, this type of mouthwash can only be prescribed by a dentist. It contains chlorhexidine, an ingredient that helps fight gingivitis and reduce gum inflammation.
  • Fluoride mouthwash: Some mouthwash, such as ACT anticavity mouthwash contain a high level of fluoride to help fight and prevent cavities. 

Tongue Cleaning

Oral bacteria can thrive on your tongue by accumulating in papillae, little bumps on the tongue’s surface. As oral bacteria multiply, they form a biofilm over your tongue, acting as a protective layer. 

Unless you regularly clean your tongue, these bacteria can transfer to your teeth’s surface leading to plaque formation. Moreover, the biofilm can contribute to bad breath and dull your taste buds. Various dental tools are available for cleaning the tongue. They include the following: 

  • Tongue scraper: This is a thin, flat dental tool made of plastic or metal. It’s easy to use. Place it at the back of your tongue and gently scrape forward. Remember to rinse the scraper after each pass to avoid transferring bacteria to other sections of the tongue.
  • Tongue brush: This brush has unique bristles designed to scrub off biofilm from the tongue. To use it, apply toothpaste to the bristles and brush the tongue’s surface in a back-and-forth motion. 
  • Mouthwash: Mouthwash is effective at eliminating oral bacteria from your tongue. Rinsing your mouth with mouthwash twice daily can help freshen your breath, prevent plaque formation, and improve saliva production.

Professional Dental Cleaning

You can easily remove plaque on teeth through regular tooth brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash. However, your dental care routine may not be 100% effective at plaque removal, especially if you fail to clean your teeth regularly or use improper teeth-cleaning techniques. 

In such cases, plaque accumulates and hardens, forming a thick layer on your teeth and gums. This condition is known as extreme dental plaque. It’s difficult to remove using standard dental care techniques and can cause various dental problems, including halitosis, tooth sensitivity, and decay. 

Extreme dental plaque, a thick, brownish deposit on the teeth and gum line, can only be removed through professional dental cleaning using specialized instruments. 

Your dentist will use a scaler, a thin pointed dental instrument, to gently scrape the plaque buildup from above the gum line. If plaque has accumulated below the gum line, the dentist will use a curette, a slightly curved dental instrument, to scrape away the plaque deposits. 

Next, your dentist will remove any remaining plaque from your teeth using a high-powered electric toothbrush and a special abrasive toothpaste. Once your teeth are plaque-free, your dentist will rinse your mouth with a fluoride solution to protect your teeth from plaque buildup.  

Benefits of Professional Dental Cleaning

Professional dental cleaning is recommended every six months to eliminate plaque buildup and help maintain good oral hygiene. The procedure has various benefits, some of which include the following: 

  • Early detection of dental problems: Your dentist will perform a routine oral checkup before cleaning your teeth. This examination can help detect dental problems such as gum disease, oral cancer, and cavities in their early stages, allowing your dentist to formulate an effective treatment plan.
  • Gum disease prevention: Regular dental cleanings remove plaque buildup from your teeth, which helps prevent gum disease and other oral infections.
  • Tooth decay prevention: Plaque buildup contributes to tooth decay and sensitivity. Regular dental cleanings can significantly reduce the risk of tooth decay through plaque removal.
  • Bad breath prevention: Oral bacteria can multiply, forming microcolonies that cause halitosis and desensitize your taste buds. Professional dental cleanings remove these harmful bacteria and help freshen your breath.

Additional Tips for Effective Plaque Removal

While maintaining a proper dental care routine can prevent plaque buildup, certain lifestyle choices can help with plaque prevention. Here are some lifestyle tips that can discourage plaque buildup and promote oral health:

Diet and Nutrition

Diet can have a significant impact on plaque formation. For instance, a diet high in starch and carbohydrates increases the risk of plaque formation. Oral bacteria rapidly multiply since they thrive on such foods, contributing to plaque buildup. Worse, the bacteria produce corrosive acids that deteriorate the enamel as they feed, leading to tooth decay. 

However, including the following foods in your diet can prevent plaque buildup and help you maintain good oral hygiene: 

  • Cranberries: Certain compounds in cranberries prevent oral bacteria from adhering to teeth and gums. Moreover, they contain minerals that contribute to healthy gums.
  • Dairy products: Dairy products like yogurt and cheese are rich in calcium and phosphates. These minerals help strengthen your teeth while discouraging plaque buildup.
  • Green tea: Catechins are a potent antioxidant found in green tea. It eliminates harmful oral bacteria, reduces plaque buildup, and helps reduce gum inflammation.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Celery, carrots, spinach, and apples are rich in fiber which scrubs plaque from teeth. They also stimulate saliva production and contain vitamins that are essential to good oral health.

Avoiding Tobacco Use

Consuming tobacco products through vaping, smoking, or chewing deteriorates oral health. For instance, smoking contributes to plaque buildup and halitosis by inhibiting saliva production in the mouth. Additionally, tobacco interferes with your immune response and irritates the gums making them more vulnerable to infection and gum disease. 

While quitting tobacco use can be challenging, you shouldn’t stop trying given the numerous benefits of giving up this destructive habit. They include the following:

  • Improving gum health: Quitting tobacco use improves gum health and reduces the risk of gum disease and tooth loss.
  • Reducing teeth staining: Constant tobacco use discolors the teeth. Quitting can help reduce staining and improve the appearance of your teeth.
  • Reducing the risk of oral cancer: Tobacco use can damage cells in the mouth, increasing your risk of developing oral cancer. Quitting as soon as possible significantly lowers this risk.
  • Improving breath quality: Smoking contributes to halitosis by inhibiting saliva and increasing plaque formation. Quitting smoking can help freshen your breath and improve saliva flow.

Regular Dental Checkups

It’s recommended that you go for dental checkups every six months. Regular dental checkups are essential for evaluating plaque buildup and preventative care. For example, regular dental visits can help detect and remove plaque buildup before it can cause serious dental issues. 

Furthermore, your dentist can develop customized preventative care based on your unique oral health needs. This can include professional cleanings, fluoride treatments, and dental sealants to help prevent plaque buildup, tooth decay, and other dental health issues.

In conclusion, plaque removal is crucial to maintaining good oral health and a beautiful smile. Regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash effectively remove plaque from the teeth and prevent it from building up. It’s also important to visit a dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.