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5 Habits That Cause Plaque on Your Teeth

Plaque. Since childhood, weve been trained to resist that dreaded enemy of teeth. Regular brushing and flossing are sure bets for dental health. What else could you be doing — or avoiding — to keep plaque off your knockout smile?

Keeping plaque off your teeth isnt complicated, but consistency is key, says Richard Price, DMD, spokesman for the American Dental Association. Good habits make for healthy teeth — for most people, its that simple, Price tells WebMD.

What Is Tooth Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky mix of bacteria and the substances they secrete. Bacteria produce adhesive chemicals called mucopolysaccharides. The bacteria then live in this film on teeth, called a biofilm.

At first, this slimy layer is fragile and easily removed by tooth brushing. Think of the film on a fish tank wall. Its easy to wipe off with a washcloth, if youre vigilant, says Price.

And if youre not? The bacteria in tooth plaque are free to release acids that damage tooth enamel. Regular acid assaults on enamel can wear holes in teeth, commonly called cavities.

If left alone, plaque buildup also gradually hardens, creating tartar or calculus on your teeth.

Tartar is petrified plaque, Price tells WebMD. Once its there, you need a dentists helptartar cant be brushed off. Tartar above the gum line also contributes to gingivitis, or gum disease.

The secrets to avoiding plaque buildup arent so secret. Youve probably been hearing most of them since before you lost your baby teeth. But bad habits have a way of sneaking up on us. Make sure youre pushing back against plaque by avoiding these five bad habits for tooth health.

Plaque Habit No. 1: Not Brushing Regularly

No one else might notice if you dont brush your teeth twice a day, every day. But your teeth will.

Plaque is a little like bees in the summertime, offers Price. One or two wont really bother you, but if you let them build a beehive in the backyard, youve got a problem, he tells WebMD.

Brush your teeth gently twice a day, using a fluoride-containing toothpaste. The exact technique isnt so important as concentrating to make sure youre softly brushing all the surfaces of your teeth.

Plaque Habit No. 2: Not Flossing Daily

Brushing doesnt reach the spaces between teeth, but plaque does. A simple daily flossing between teeth clears away plaque before it can cause damage.

Flossing also cleans plaque at the gum line, another area that brushing doesnt reach, says Price. If left alone, plaque past the gum line can lead to periodontal disease.

If you just cant stand flossing your teeth, consider using one of the many other ADA-approved products to clean between your teeth daily. Theyre available in any supermarket or drugstore; ask your dentist if youre not sure which one to use.

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