Plaque is a buildup of food debris, mucus, and bacteria that occurs naturally in the mouth. Plaque can lead to inflammation, infection, and other health problems without regular dental hygiene.

Plaque forms individually on each tooth, creating its own micro-sized ecosystem of diverse, yet sensitive, microbes. The soft film can easily be scratched off with a fingernail, but if it’s not removed in 48 hours it starts to harden. After about 10 days or so, it becomes a hard substance known as tartar.

Although plaque is often depicted as an enemy of oral health, it actually helps aid in digestion and also keeps foreign contaminants from taking over your mouth. It also holds fluoride and other minerals that help prevent teeth from losing their strength.

While partially helpful, plaque becomes a problem once it begins landing in the crevices between the gums and teeth, where it can lead to tartar, tooth decay, or gingivitis. If left undisturbed, plaque buildup reaches its maximum after seven days. 

Treating Plaque Buildup

The key to good plaque levels in your mouth isn’t eradication—it’s control. Brushing your teeth once a day—using toothpaste with fluoride—is generally enough to keep plaque from reaching damaging levels in your mouth. The fluoride in the toothpaste helps maintain plaque at a healthy level and prevents tooth decay and cavities.

Regular flossing also helps keep plaque from building up in between teeth, where it can buildup to unhealthy levels and cause problems.