What is Dental Plaque, and How Can I Get Rid of It?

Many people have heard dentists talking about plaque on their teeth with little understanding of what it actually is or why it matters that you remove it.  In this week’s blog, we’ll explain what you need to know about dental plaque, and hopefully, that will give you the motivation you need to get rid of it daily!

What is Dental Plaque?

Dental plaque is the soft, white buildup that accumulates on the teeth throughout the day, every day.  It contains food debris, exfoliated tissue cells from the lining of the mouth, and many different species of bacteria.  Plaque is simple to remove with a soft bristled toothbrush and floss.  It is so easy to remove that for babies with new teeth, we instruct the parents to use a soft washcloth to gently wipe it away.

Why is Dental Plaque Bad?

Dental plaque is the source of both cavities and gum disease.  Different types of bacteria are responsible for these two dental infections, and they both reside in plaque.


The bacteria in dental plaque that are responsible for cavities weaken and penetrate tooth enamel by producing acid.  These bacteria ingest (eat) simple carbohydrates from your diet and create acid as a by-product.  The dental plaque that is on the teeth then keeps the acid in contact with enamel in order to soften it.  Cavities are bacterial infections of the hard structures of the teeth.

Gum Disease

Gum disease results from toxins released by the bacteria living in dental plaque.  These toxins penetrate into the surrounding gum tissue, producing an inflammatory response by the body.  Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the tissues around the teeth.

How Can I Get Rid of It?

Plaque is soft and easy to remove with the right tools and the right technique.  Thorough plaque removal in the mouth must include both brushing and flossing the teeth.  If you skip flossing, you are leaving plaque between the teeth, where your toothbrush bristles cannot reach.  You must also use the right technique to physically remove the plaque from the teeth.


Toothbrushes are designed to remove plaque from all surfaces of the teeth except the surfaces where two teeth touch.  Plaque tends to collect near the gums on the smooth surfaces and in the deep pits and grooves of the chewing surfaces.  Soft toothbrush bristles are able to sweep plaque away from all of these collection sites.

You can watch a great brushing tutorial here.


Flossing is the only way to remove plaque from between the teeth, so commit to flossing every night before bed.  When you floss, it is not enough to simply snap the floss up and down between the teeth.  The plaque adheres to the sides of the teeth.  That means you need the floss to wrap around the side of a tooth and then move it up and down to clean that surface of the tooth.  Remember that you have two surfaces to clean in each flossing site!

This video contains a great tutorial for the technique called “C-shaped flossing”, which provides the best plaque removal.

What Happens if I Don’t Remove it?

Unfortunately, dental plaque doesn’t stay soft and easy to remove. Over time, it mineralized, or hardens, into tartar (also called calculus).  Tartar is hard and impossible to remove with brushing and flossing.  It requires specialized dental instruments for removal, and that means it will only come off during a professional teeth cleaning.

Because tartar contains the same bacteria that dental plaque does, it leads to cavities and gum disease as well.  You will not see most tartar buildup because it tends to collect between the teeth or underneath the gums.  If you have not seen your dental hygienist in over a year for a professional teeth cleaning, it is time to schedule one!

More Questions about Dental Plaque?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule an evaluation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer all of your questions about plaque and assess your current situation.  Removing dental plaque is simple and effective at preventing dental infections.