What Really Happens To Your Teeth When You Have Too Much Plaque

Anyone who has sat through a mouthwash commercial knows that plaque isn't something you want to leave on your teeth. Over and over again we're told that we have to clean it out and keep it from building up, but few people know the real reason why. Or even where exactly plaque comes from.

As Arkansas Family Dental puts it, plaque is a clear film that coats our teeth. It is made up of bacteria and collects primarily along the gum lines and between teeth, as well as in the deep pockets of the molars. It is caused when particles from food and drink stay on the teeth after a person has eaten. Unless that person practices proper dental hygiene at home, this plaque can build up.

It feeds on a combination of sugars from food, bacteria, and saliva. As it builds up, it can give teeth a yellowish tint. But a little discoloration is far from the worst thing plaque can do to a person's teeth. The dental practice explains that plaque can cause bad breath in addition to other concerns. And while bad breath is something nobody wants to put up with, the effect plaque has on the teeth and gums is much, much worse.

It affects your overall health

If you have ever swept your tongue over your teeth and thought they felt a bit "fuzzy", you've encountered plaque buildup, according to WebMD. The site goes on to caution that leaving that film on your teeth can lead to tooth corrosion, gum disease, and even decay of the underlying bone that supports your teeth. And while this may seem trivial compared to other health conditions, WebMD warns that dental issues have been linked to more dire concerns like heart disease and dementia.

Harvard Health Publishing backs up this information, citing a growing body of evidence that links tooth decay to heart disease. The exact cause of the connection is still unknown, but Harvard lists several possible theories, such as oral bacteria traveling to other parts of the body where they inflame blood vessels, or that risk factors (like a smoking habit) increase risks for both oral and heart health issues.

Before plaque can cause large-scale issues, however, it begins by damaging the teeth and gums. The Cleveland Clinic lists several conditions like gingivitis — swollen, red gums that bleed when prodded — and infected teeth as common plaque-related ailments. Both can land someone in the dentist's chair far more often than they probably want, which is all the more reason to floss the way dentists advise and remove plaque before it can cause problems.