People used to think that as you got older you naturally lost your teeth. We now know that’s not true. By following easy steps for keeping your teeth and gums healthy – plus seeing your dentist regularly — you can have your teeth for a lifetime.

Plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth and contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria in plaque cause tooth decay and gum disease if they are not removed regularly through brushing and flossing. Everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly forming in our mouths. These bacteria use ingredients found in our diet and saliva to grow. Plaque causes cavities when the acids from plaque attack teeth after eating. With repeated acid attacks, the tooth enamel can break down and a cavity may form.

Plaque bacteria that is not removed daily by brushing and flossing between teeth can eventually harden into tartar. Brushing and flossing become more difficult as tartar collects at the gum line. As the tartar, plaque and bacteria continue to increase, the gum tissue can become red, swollen and possibly bleed when you brush your teeth. This is called gingivitis, an early stage of gum (periodontal) disease.

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Plaque is colorless and difficult to see. Heavy plaque deposits can be easier to see and may look like a thick white deposit or food stuck to the teeth. Since plaque is constantly growing in your mouth, the best way to remove it and to prevent tartar build-up is to brush and floss your teeth every day.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque from tooth surfaces and protect your teeth from decay.
  • Clean between teeth daily (preferably before bedtime) with floss or a cleaner to remove plaque from the places where your toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing is essential to preventing gum disease.
  • Since plaque is a sticky substance, you must brush and floss to help remove it. Mouth rinses alone will not provide enough plaque removal to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks, which can provide more sugar for the bacteria in plaque to convert into decay-causing acids.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year for professional cleanings and oral exams.