Plaque on Teeth: Buildup Of Plaque And Tartar and How To Remove It

Table of Contents

Dental professionals usually recommend you brush, floss, and rinse your mouth with antiseptic mouthwash regularly to prevent the buildup of tartar.

Plaque on Teeth

Dental plaque and tartar are why a strict hygiene routine is important.

Read on to learn why tartar is your mouth’s worst enemy and the irrefutable importance of proper oral hygiene for your dental and systemic well-being.

What is dental plaque?

Dental plaque is a sticky film that forms on your teeth every day. It is that cheese-like white coating that you feel on your teeth as soon as you wake up.

It is normal to develop this sticky residue, especially after a meal. It becomes problematic if it isn’t removed. However, some studies report that this coating can start forming as soon as five minutes to five hours after it has been removed.

What is plaque made up of?

Experts often refer to plaque as “biofilm” because plaque contains bacteria (it is essentially a community of live microbes) that is covered with a sticky coating to attach easily to tooth surfaces.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the bacteria in plaque can release acids that attack tooth enamel. If left untreated for a prolonged period, it can cause the enamel to break down, causing dental decay and gum infection.

What does plaque look like on the teeth?

Plaque is colorless in appearance but can produce discoloration to the tooth if food particles are stuck to it. Without removal, it can turn into tartar that can build up on your teeth and give a dull, yellow look.

What are the symptoms of dental plaque on your teeth?

Accumulation of dental plaque can give rise to many symptoms such as:

  • A sticky or fuzzy feeling on your teeth
  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away, is known as halitosis
  • Red, swollen gums surround plaque-ridden teeth
  • Gums that bleed after brushing 

What causes plaque?

Tooth plaque forms as a result of the interaction between the natural oral bacteria and carbohydrate-rich foods like sugary or starchy foods. These bacteria release acids to break down the carbohydrates.

Starchy Foods

The bacteria continue to grow and multiply in a mass of soluble and insoluble carbohydrates called the plaque matrix. If oral hygiene is neglected after eating or drinking, the combination of bacteria, acids, and carbohydrates can result in the formation of a sticky residue that is plaque.

It takes the soft, cheese-like plaque to solidify into tartar anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. Once, this happens, tartar can build up exponentially fast, especially when aggravated by dry mouth and tobacco use.

What are the complications of plaque?

A recent study investigated the role of dental plaque in oral disease. The authors assessed the progression of high, medium, and low-plaque-trajectory groups.

They concluded that high-plaque-trajectory individuals were more likely to experience tooth decay, periodontal disease, and subsequent tooth loss. The implications from the study were clear; poor plaque control can damage your teeth and gums.

Gum disease

Uncontrolled plaque and tartar buildup can lead to gum disease (periodontal disease) around your teeth. Symptoms to look out for are bleeding gums, swollen and red gums, underlying bone infection, and even tooth loss.

Tooth decay

Plaque buildup can also develop cavities because of the extended exposure of the tooth to bacterial acids. The bacteria colonization, although starting on smooth and clean tooth surfaces typically favors surface irregularities, resulting in cavity formation.

What is the difference between plaque and tartar?

In cases where plaque is not removed, it can harden into tartar, scientifically called dental calculus. Since it is very hard, only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove it. 

Plaque Tartar

It is off-white or yellow and commonly makes your teeth look dull and dirty. It might even take up the color of the foods or beverages that you consume like red wine, coffee, tea, and tobacco.

How is plaque diagnosed?

Plaque is typically colorless but can feel fuzzy upon touch. Your dentist can spot plaque on your teeth using a small mirror during an oral examination. If they are unable to scrape the plaque off your teeth, it has most likely already turned to tartar.

How to get rid of plaque?

The best way to remove plaque from your teeth is by brushing and flossing your teeth regularly with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Some dentists may also recommend using an electric toothbrush to effectively remove this residue.

Your dentist or hygienist can remove tartar from your teeth by cleaning them thoroughly using an ultrasonic scaler. It is crucial to remove plaque regularly so that cannot harden into tartar.

Because tartar can build up in hard-to-reach places, you should visit your dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning.

How to prevent plaque buildup?

Dental plaque formation is inevitable as plaque forms all over the mouth, accumulating in and around deep crevices of the back teeth. Although it is colorless, it sure isn’t harmless. 

You should strive to keep your teeth free of plaque and subsequently prevent tartar  buildup by implementing some good habits in your day-to-day routine, such as:

Brush regularly 

A no-brainer during any oral hygiene regimen, you should always uphold the importance of brushing your teeth.


Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and an ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste for best results.

Floss your teeth

Simply brushing cannot remove food residue from hard-to-reach places. Flossing once a day with dental floss is important to remove food particles or debris from between your teeth that your toothbrush cannot reach.

Use a mouthwash

Brushing and flossing alone cannot keep your dental health pristine and protected. The American Dental Association recommends you use an over-the-counter anti-septic mouthwash for rinsing to reduce plaque and gingivitis. Use it daily.

Get routine dental cleanings

Ideally, you should get dental checkups and cleanings every 6 months to help remove plaque and maintain healthy teeth and gums. 

At these routine examinations, your dentist may recommend different dental approaches to suit your lifestyle as well as be able to assess the condition of your mouth.

Chew sugarless gum

We’ve been told to brush our teeth after meals, but an article from Columbia University Medical Center may have you wait. 

Eating foods especially those that are acidic, like oranges, lemons, or sodas can weaken your tooth enamel. Brushing immediately after can remove the enamel layer of the tooth. 

It is best to hold off brushing for at least 60 minutes for your mouth pH to return to its proper level and to allow the enamel to remineralize and build itself back up.

In the meantime, you can stick to drinking water and chewing sugarless gum. Choose a kind that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Choose healthy foods

It is always a good idea to cut back on sugary, starchy, or crunchy foods and beverages. You can supplement these unhealthy foods with teeth-friendly, nutritious foods such as plain yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and cheese.

Take care of your teeth and gums

Dental plaque is tricky as it can quickly harden to form tartar that is difficult to remove. Proper tartar control is essential to keep your teeth and gums healthy and to prevent the onset of tooth decay and gum disease.

Healthy Gums
Healthy Gums

Brush and floss your teeth every day and get professional dental cleanings regularly to give your teeth a fighting chance against the dangers of dental plaque.

Talk to your dentist or visit your local medical center for more information about this invisible dental threat.

Latest Articles:
Scroll to Top