That troublesome thing – Plaque

Plaque. We’ve all heard of it. We know from the humanoid representations of plaque that you see on the toothpaste commercials that it’s mean and nasty, and that it wants to take over our mouths. But beyond that, do you really know much about it?

It seems to fall very much in the need-to-know-basis category. Your dentist will say ‘you’ve got some plaque build-up there, are you flossing?’, you’ll lie and say ‘yes, religiously’, and they’ll see straight through that and recommend perhaps trying harder.

But what exactly is this plaque, and apart from your inability to regularly floss, what causes it?

Plaque Basics

Like many things mouth related, the answer can be described as none too pleasant.

Plaque is a biofilm; a mass of built-up bacteria that grows as a coating on the inside of your mouth. Starting as a sticky, colourless substance, it eventually forms tartar (not to be confused with the seafood sauce) that shows as a pale brown or yellow film. Most commonly you’ll find it in your teeth’s cracks and crevices, where it can easily hide.

As off-putting as all of that sounds, the formation of plaque is a totally natural process that can’t be prevented. It must, however, be managed, as allowing plaque to have a free run at your mouth is a recipe for disaster. The plaque bacteria releases an acid when breaking down fermentable sugar in the mouth, leading primarily to tooth decay, but also gingivitis and periodontitis (both stages of gum disease).

Dietary Factors

So, we know that the interaction between plaque and sugar is the precursor to serious oral health problems. So take a wild guess as to what foods you may need to watch out for when battling plaque.

We admittedly can’t hear you, but feel confident when we say you are correct.

Sugar, spice and all things nice. If we’ve learnt anything from daytime soap operas, it’s that it’s always those that you love the most that hurt you. You need to take particular care with sugary treats that tend to hang around in the mouth, as this gives the plaque even more time to break down those sugars. Lollipops, jelly beans, toffee; these things require a lot of mouth work to be broken down, and can tend to lurk in the crevices of your teeth even after you think that you’ve swallowed them.

Acidic foods and drinks are also a boon for plaque. The combination of sugar and acid that comes in fruit juices and soft drinks can be plaque’s equivalent of a birthday party. Using a straw to minimise these fluids’ contact with your teeth can help.

Less obvious plaque culprits are starchy and refined carbs. Pasta, bread, chips and crackers can be just as damaging as sticky treats, as the simple carbohydrates that they are made of can be easily broken down into their original simple sugars.

Winning the Battle

Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can minimise the effect of plaque on your teeth, and keep those pearly whites a pearly white.

Firstly, for every food that is plaque helping, there is an equal and opposite food that is plaque hindering.

Fibre-rich vegetables and fruits are on your side. The natural fibre of these foods stimulates the production of saliva, which is your mouth’s best natural defence against plaque. It will help to wash away any residual food particles that may be lingering. On top of that, about 20 minutes after eating, saliva will begin to neutralise any acid that plaque produces.

Dairy products are winners, as their calcium, phosphates and vitamin D will all contribute to the strengthening of your teeth from the inside out.

Black and green teas actively suppress the offending bacteria, slowing down the plaque-causing processes. If you drink tea that is made with fluoride enriched water, you’ll also be strengthening your teeth at the same time!

It also goes without saying that a good oral hygiene program is vital to minimising plaque. Physically scrubbing back the bacteria is a sure-fire way to keep it at bay. And don’t forget to floss; trust me, your dentist can tell if you’re lying. Speaking of dentists, a regular check-up will ensure that any potential problems are quickly knocked on the head.

Plaque is an unavoidable part of a person’s life, and you’ll be in a constant battle with it for mouth supremacy. But by using common sense to keep it in check, you’re ensuring that your chompers have plenty of life in them yet.