Are you bothered by the amount of excess plaque that builds up in your mouth? It looks bad, it tastes bad, it smells bad and it’s definitely bad for your oral health. Plaque causes both cavities and gingivitis. Here’s what you should know about dealing with this problem.

How much plaque is normal?

Plaque is a sticky biofilm made up of bacteria and the waste products they secrete as they feed and reproduce. This slimy stuff is being generated every minute of every day. If you brush your teeth twice a day, you will probably see a small amount of new plaque buildup along your gum line and between your teeth every time you brush. If there’s a lot of excess plaque coating your teeth, this is a sign that your eating habits are contributing to plaque buildup – or that you aren’t removing all of it when you brush and floss.

Why do I have so much plaque?

The most common reason for excess plaque is a habit of eating sugary or starchy foods without brushing or rinsing out the mouth immediately afterward. The amount of bacteria in your mouth is linked to the amount of food available for it to eat. Oral bacteria love simple carbohydrates. These can be found in sugary cereals, donuts, soft drinks, candy and other junk foods. Sugars and simple carbs are also present even in healthier foods like milk, bread and fruit. When you eat or snack on these foods, they leave residue in your mouth that feeds bacteria and leads to excess plaque.

How can I prevent excess plaque buildup?

Brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day is the bare minimum for keeping plaque at bay. If you tend to snack between meals, you may want to brush or at least rinse out your mouth more frequently. Drink plenty of water, chew sugar-free gum and eat foods that are high in fiber or that stimulate saliva production. For example, instead of grabbing a candy bar, go for some baby carrots and a piece of low-fat cheese.

How can I get rid of excess plaque easily?

Plaque is very easy to remove with brushing and flossing when it is still soft and new. Just keep in mind that it only takes 48 hours for plaque to harden into tartar. Brushing and flossing on a regular schedule ensures that any excess plaque can be gently removed without hurting your gums. You may also wish to use a toothpick or dental pick to get bits of food out from between your teeth so it doesn’t provide a feast for bacteria. Using a mouthwash that contains fluoride can help kill off some of the oral bacteria that contribute to plaque.

When should you brush and floss? Always brush your teeth first thing in the morning. This gets rid of plaque that’s built up overnight so you can start with a fresh, clean mouth. Bacteria can still continue to create biofilm even when you aren’t eating anything. That’s why it’s normal for people to have “morning mouth” accompanied by bad breath. The bacteria in your mouth have just had eight hours of time to grow and spread uninterrupted while you were sleeping. If you are only brushing twice a day, make after dinner your second brushing time so bacteria don’t have any extra “fuel” to feed on overnight.

What can my dentist do about excess plaque?

Your dental hygienist will remove plaque from your teeth during a regular prophylactic cleaning. If the excess plaque has hardened into tartar, you may need a more thorough cleaning called “debridement.” If the plaque has penetrated down below your gums, your dentist may also recommend scaling (scraping) to get rid of any buildup that could be causing gingivitis. When you visit the dentist, always ask to have any areas of hidden plaque pointed out so you know where to focus your efforts when you are brushing and flossing.