Causes of Excessive Plaque Buildup
Plaque can be a real plague for your teeth. This clear, sticky film coats your teeth with a layer of bacteria — and when you eat, the bacteria feed on the food, especially sugary and starchy foods — creating damaging acids that can eat through your tooth enamel and cause cavities, tooth decay and even gingivitis.
While even the most fastidious tooth brushers can’t avoid having some plaque on their teeth, there are two lifestyle choices that can cause you to develop some serious plaque: your diet and your dental hygiene. Here’s how your lifestyle habits can make your teeth more prone to plaque buildup — and more at risk for developing tooth decay and cavities.
Your Diet — And Your Sweet Tooth. What you’re eating can play a big role in whether you develop plaque and tooth decay. Certain foods can either promote the growth of plaque — or help you "brush" the buildup away.
"Eating too many sweets and starchy snacks causes excessive plaque buildup," says Elaine Swingle, DMD, a dentist at Great Smiles in Westfield, NJ. "The bacteria in your mouth feed off these foods, and they produce 20 minutes of acid, which causes decay. With more sweets in your diet, you get more plaque." Be especially wary of sticky, sugary foods like caramels, taffy and even raisins, which can get stuck in between or on your teeth, and sweetened soft drinks, which coat your teeth with bacteria-friendly sugars.
If you want to choose foods that will help you minimize the plaque growth on your teeth, stick with raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables — like carrots, apples, celery and pears — which can "brush" the plaque off of your teeth as you chew them up. (A couple of apples a day may keep both the doctor and the dentist away!)
Poor Dental Hygiene. The only way to send plaque packing is through regular and thorough brushing and flossing — a rinse of water simply won’t touch it. "Plaque on your teeth feels ‘fuzzy’ to the tongue," says Dr. Swingle. "With proper brushing and flossing, the teeth should feel smooth again." You should brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss once each day to keep plaque in check — and you need to avoid mid-day snacking (or brush immediately after it) to minimize the chances of developing tooth decay. If you want to be really thorough, you can include an ADA-approved fluoride mouth rinse in your brushing routine, as they have been shown to help cut down on plaque.
Make it a habit to brush your teeth as soon as you can after meals, to help minimize the opportunity for plaque to grow on your teeth — especially if you’ve just eaten something sugary.
Plaque that doesn’t get brushed away will start to build up in spots and harden onto your teeth, creating calcified deposits of tartar that won’t come off with a brush. That’s why regular dental cleanings are also extremely important for plaque removal and good dental hygiene. Your dentist can reach into those out-of-the-way spots where plaque may build up and where hardened tartar has developed, to remove the deposits and help you avoid getting cavities. You should visit your dentist twice each year for a thorough cleaning.