Plaque and How to Control It

Plaque is a soft, sticky, and colorless deposit that is continually forming on our teeth and gums. Often undetected, plaque attacks the teeth and gums with the acid it produces from bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria use the sugars from foods and beverages along with saliva, to thrive and multiply. This acid attack breaks down the tooth's enamel, causing tooth sensitivity and ending with varying degrees of tooth decay. Plaque is also responsible for gum disease and contributes to bad breath.

Two girl toddlers brushing teeth at bathroom sink
Igor Emmerich / Getty Images

Plaque is controlled by brushing and flossing daily at home and during regular cleaning from your dentist or dental hygienist. Reduce plaque by limiting sugar and carbohydrates in your diet. Plaque accumulates in hard to reach areas of the mouth. If it is not removed daily, it begins to harden into a calcified substance called calculus, also known as tartar.

How Plaque Forms

Chemical reactions that take place in the mouth work to form plaque. Bacteria, carbohydrates, food particles, and saliva are all necessary for the formation of plaque. Foods that have an extremely high sugar content, such as candy, cookies, and soda, contain more carbohydrates. A high rate of consumption of these foods leads to increased carbohydrate presence, and in turn, a higher plaque presence.

The carbohydrates combine with the naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to form an acid. This acid can eat through the tooth’s outer layer of enamel. The acid then forms with saliva and any left-over food particles to become a hard, sticky substance. The substance that is created between the acid, food particles and saliva is referred to as plaque. The plaque then sticks to the teeth and causes a variety of dental issues, like cavities.


Considering all of the damage that it can do, the prevention of plaque is an extremely important step to dental care. There are two effective methods of plaque prevention. Limiting your overall consumption of foods high in carbohydrates is one way to prevent plaque. Since a high rate of carbohydrate consumption leads to a higher presence of plaque build-up, removing carbohydrates from your diet will limit plaque. Candy, cookies, soda, and other extremely sweet and sugary items should be avoided, especially in excess, to prevent plaque buildup.

Completely avoiding carbohydrates is virtually impossible, however. Thus, frequent brushing and flossing is the second way to prevent plaque buildup. Brushing and flossing twice a day is recommended. Brushing works to loosen and remove plaque that has built up around the teeth. Flossing works to remove food particles and debris that gets stuck in between the teeth. By flossing it out, you are providing this bacteria with less of an opportunity to form into plaque.

Was this page helpful?