Oral Hygiene Matters: Dental Plaque on Teeth and Tartar

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can progress to affect the bone that surrounds and supports your teeth.

Gum Disease Causes

Gum disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque, a sticky, colourless film that constantly forms on your teeth. If not removed through daily brushing and flossing, plaque can build up, and the bacteria infect not only your gums and teeth but eventually the gum tissues and bones that support the teeth. This can cause the teeth to become loose, fall out or need to be removed by a dentist.

Stages of Gum Disease

There are three stages of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis: this is the earliest stage of the disease, an inflammation of the gums caused by plaque build-up at the gumline. If daily brushing and flossing do not remove the plaque, it produces toxins that can irritate the gum tissue, causing gingivitis. You may notice some bleeding during brushing and flossing. At this early stage in gum disease, damage can be reversed.
  • Periodontitis: at this stage, the supporting bone and fibres that hold your teeth in place are irreversibly damaged. Your gums may begin to form a pocket below the gumline, which traps food and plaque. Proper dental treatment and improved home care can usually help prevent further damage.
  • Advanced periodontitis: in this final stage, the fibres and bone supporting your teeth are destroyed, which can cause your teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect your bite and, if aggressive treatment can't save them, teeth may need to be removed.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

Gum disease can occur at any age, but it is most common among adults. Get dental treatment immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Gums that are red, puffy or swollen, or tender
  • Gums that bleed during brushing or flossing
  • Teeth that look longer because your gums have receded
  • Gums that have separated or pulled away from your teeth, creating a pocket
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Pus coming from between your teeth and gums
  • Constant bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth

Gum Disease Treatment

The early stages of gum disease can often be reversed with proper oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing. Good oral health will help keep plaque from building up. 

Professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist is the only way to remove plaque built up and hardened into tartar. Your dentist or hygienist will clean or "scale" your teeth to remove the tartar above and below the gumline. If your condition is more severe, a root planning procedure may be performed to smooth irregularities on the roots of the teeth, making it more difficult for plaque to deposit there.

By scheduling regular check-ups and practising good oral health habits, early-stage gum disease can be treated before leading to a much more serious condition. If your condition is more advanced, further treatment will be required. 

Plaque On Teeth

Everyone develops plaque, a sticky, colourless film of bacteria and sugars that constantly forms on our teeth. It is the main cause of cavities and gum disease and can harden into tartar if not removed daily. 

Prevent plaque build-up with these oral hygiene tips:

  • Brushing thoroughly at least twice a day to remove plaque from all surfaces of your teeth
  • Flossing daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gumline
  • Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks
  • Schedule regular dental visits

What is Tartar?

Tartar, or calculus, is plaque that has hardened on your teeth. Tartar can also form at and underneath the gumline and can irritate gum tissues. Tartar gives plaque more surface area on which to grow and a much stickier surface to adhere to, which can lead to more serious conditions, such as cavities and gum disease.

Tartar is also a cosmetic problem. Because it is more porous, it absorbs stains easily. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist can remove it, so if you are a tea or coffee drinker or if you smoke, it is especially important to prevent tartar build-up with regular brushing and flossing.

Diabetes and Periodontal Disease

Research shows that there is an increased prevalence of gum disease among diabetics. Emerging research also suggests that the relationship between serious gum disease and diabetes is two-way. Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but it may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. 

If your blood glucose levels are poorly controlled, you will likely develop serious gum disease and lose more teeth than non-diabetics. Like all infections, serious gum disease may be a factor in causing blood sugar to rise and may make diabetes harder to control.

Other oral problems associated with diabetes include thrush, an infection caused by a fungus that grows in the mouth, and dry mouth, which can cause soreness, ulcers, infections and cavities. You can help to minimise dental and oral problems with good diabetic control. Let your dentist know you have diabetes.

Heart Disease and Gum Disease

Research indicates that chronic gum disease may also contribute to the development of heart disease. It is thought that the bacteria in gum disease enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty deposits in the heart blood vessels. This condition can cause blood clots and may lead to heart attacks. 

Let your dentist know if you have a heart condition or are taking medication so he/she can coordinate any treatment with your doctor.

Women and Gum Disease

Hormonal fluctuations or changes that occur during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause may affect the gums and increase a woman's risk of periodontal disease. Any pre-existing periodontal disease can become more severe.

Good Oral Hygiene

Good oral hygiene results in a mouth that looks and smells healthy. This means:

  • Your teeth are clean and free of debris
  • Gums are pink and do not hurt or bleed when you brush or floss
  • Bad breath is not a constant problem

If your gums hurt or bleed while brushing or flossing, or you are experiencing persistent bad breath, see your dentist. Any of these may indicate a problem.

Daily preventive oral care, including proper brushing and flossing, will help stop problems before they develop and is much less painful — and less expensive — than treating conditions that have been allowed to progress. Good oral hygiene includes:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing daily
  • Eating a balanced diet and limiting snacks between meals
  • Using dental products that contain fluoride, including toothpaste
  • Rinsing with a fluoride mouth rinse if your dentist tells you to
  • Making sure that your children under 12 years of age drink fluoridated water or take a fluoride supplement if they live in a non-fluoridated area

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