a woman brushing her teeth in a mirror

What causes plaque?

There’s no denying just how important your oral health is, and it’s likely you’re already aware of the fact that you should brush, floss, repeat on a daily basis. However, if you’re guilty of letting your dental regime slip, you might find that you eventually come across some problems – such as plaque buildup.

But what is plaque and what causes it? In this article, we explain how plaque builds up and what it might mean for your dental wellbeing. We also take a look at how long it takes for it to form and what you can do to get rid of it. Keep reading to find out more.

What causes plaque on your teeth?

In short, poor oral hygiene can cause plaque to build up on your teeth – but where does it come from in the first place? The truth is, your mouth is full of bacteria which when combined with your saliva, forms a sticky, creamy-coloured film known as plaque. If you’re not brushing your teeth properly or you’re not flossing regularly with a good quality floss pick or tape, this plaque will continue to build up on your teeth. 

Whenever you eat or drink something that’s high in carbohydrates, such as particularly starchy or sugary foods and drinks, the bacteria in the plaque turns the carbohydrates into energy and produces acid at the same time. Over time, this acid can break down and wear away the tooth’s natural enamel surface which can lead to tooth decay. The bacteria in plaque can irritate your gums too, causing them to feel sore and sensitive.

Aside from poor oral hygiene, there are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing a build up of plaque and other problems with your teeth and gums. For example, your age can play a role, as issues such as gum disease are more common as you get older, while the hormone changes in pregnancy may mean that your gums are more susceptible to plaque. Some health conditions can impact your oral health too, including diabetes and a weakened immune system.[1]

How long does it take for plaque to build up?

Believe it or not, plaque can start to form from as little as four to 12 hours after you’ve brushed your teeth. This is why it’s extremely important that you brush your teeth at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Ideally, you should brush your teeth before you go to bed and on one other occasion during the day, such as when you wake up in the morning or 30 to 60 minutes after you’ve eaten breakfast. You should also use a good quality toothbrush and a toothpaste that contains at least 1,350 ppm of fluoride.

Even though brushing your teeth is absolutely crucial, it’s not enough. You should also make sure that you are flossing your teeth on a daily basis. Flossing will help you clean those hard-to-reach areas between your teeth, which in turn, will significantly help prevent the build up of plaque.

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of flossing your teeth at the same time as brushing so you don’t forget to do it. 

If you’re concerned about a build up of plaque on your teeth, you should book an appointment to see your dentist or hygienist. A dental professional will be able to give you more advice based on your individual dental health.[2]


[1] https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/general-medical-conditions/tooth-plaque/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/how-to-keep-your-teeth-clean/

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