How to Prevent Plaque Buildup on Teeth
After twenty-plus years, I finally overcame my fear and went to the dentist back in November. As it turned out, the fearful anticipation was much worse than the actual event. And, despite years of avoiding the dentist (but regular brushing and the occasional bout of flossing), my teeth were fine and, according to the dental hygienist, remarkably clean considering how long it had been between visits.
Still, there was a fair bit of scraping involved in the cleaning process, mainly on the backs of my teeth where it is more difficult to see. The unpleasant scraping is actually a procedure known as scaling. Yuck. Doesn't sound very appealing, does it? Needless to say, I want to do every thing in my power to reduce - if not eliminate - the need for any further scaling on my next visit, six months from now. At least, that is the goal I'm aiming for.
What exactly was the dental hygienist scraping off anyway? Well, turns out it was tartar that was being scraped off my teeth. That's right - tartar. But, wait! Here I thought it was plaque that I had to be careful of. I've seen it in several TV commercials for popular tooth pastes. So why is it tartar and not plaque being scraped off of my teeth?
What is Dental Plaque?
Dental plaque is a sticky substance that is formed by saliva, carbohydrates and left-over food particles in your mouth mixing with the natural bacteria found in your mouth. You can't see plaque, but sometimes you can feel it. Have you ever run your tongue over your teeth and thought that they felt kind of, well, fuzzy? That's plaque build up.
What is Tartar?
Tartar (also known as calculus) is plaque that has hardened and it can only be removed by a dental professional. If left untreated, tartar can lead to gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontal disease. Unchecked tartar can eventually lead to tooth loss.
I did a Google Image search for tartar and the images I found were not pretty. I definitely don't want to see that gunk forming on my teeth. And I don't want to lose any of my teeth. Since tartar can only be removed by a dental professional, preventing plaque buildup (which is what causes tartar to form in the first place) would be my best option.
How to Prevent Plaque on Teeth
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Your mom was right - it really is important to brush your teeth. Brushing your teeth after a meal helps remove food particles that can lead to plaque buildup. Be sure to use a soft bristle brush (or an electric toothbrush if you've got one) and brush for at least two minutes, making sure that you get the backs of your teeth and the molars.
- Floss your teeth at least once a day. I have to admit that I am not very diligent at doing this, but my dentist (and my husband who gets on my case all the time about it) insists that it is very important. Flossing helps remove food particles from those hard to reach places that your toothbrush can't reach - like between your teeth.
- Use baking soda to brush your teeth. I'm a big fan of baking soda, and not just for using it for brushing your teeth. Just pour a little baking soda into the palm of your hand, add enough water to make a paste, and dip your brush in the mixture and brush as you would with toothpaste. It might not freshen up your breath, but it will help remove plaque. Personally, I do this at least twice a week and I am convinced that it is one of the reasons my teeth were in such good shape despite more than two decades of avoiding the dentist's chair.
- Avoid sugary foods. Plaque loves sugar, the more, the better - but it's not good for your teeth. And I'm not just talking about candy here, foods like bread and crackers are high in carbohydrates, which break down and form sugar when we eat them. Crunchy fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, can help reduce plaque. How's that incentive to eat right? But if you simply must indulge in a sweet mid-afternoon snack, rinse your mouth out with water afterwards. It will help remove food particles that might cling to your teeth.
- Go to the dentist for regular check-ups. That one was from my dentist, of course. And she was right. Getting regular check-ups will help keep tartar under control and it is tartar that causes gum disease. I know I'm not one to harp on this, but if you want to keep your teeth and gums free of decay and disease, get thee hence to the dentist's chair once or twice a year.
Hopefully, with a few tweaks in my daily habits, I will have far less tartar buildup when I go see the dentist in May. Less tartar equals less scraping and that is just fine with me.
If you have any tips and suggestions on how to prevent dental plaque buildup, I'd love to hear about them. My teeth would love it, too.