Plaque is the clear sticky film that builds up on the surface of your teeth and tongue. It contains thousands of bacteria in a sticky matrix that helps them adhere to your teeth. The trouble with plaque is that the bacteria produce acid and other noxious chemical substances. If plaque is not cleaned away quickly enough, it can calcify and form a hard substance called calculus (or tartar) that can’t be brushed away.
The acid that the bacteria produce, especially immediately after you eat, starts to dissolve away the surface of your enamel. Over time, if cleaning is not removing this plaque adequately, enough enamel is dissolved away that you end up with a cavity (or “hole”).
The other substances that bacteria in plaque produce irritate your gums; making them red, puffy and prone to bleed easily. This is known as gingivitis. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent damage around the teeth, referred to as periodontitis. The gums can come away from the teeth. Pockets form and fill with more bacteria, plaque and calculus. If the gums are not treated, the bone around the teeth can be destroyed. The teeth may become loose and even fall out. Gum disease is a main cause of tooth loss in adults.
If you keep the plaque cleaned off your teeth every day, you are well on the way to maintaining a healthy mouth. It is also important to have a balanced diet and limit snacking between meals.
Most foods and drinks cause the bacteria in plaque to produce acids. Every time you eat, your teeth are getting attacked by acid. If you snack frequently throughout the day, your teeth may be getting one long acid attack, all day long.
Sugary foods, such as lollies, biscuits and soft drinks are not the only culprits. Starches, such as breads and cereals also cause acids to form. If you do snack, choose something nutritious that is low in starch and added sugar. Raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of fruit are good options.