Dental health goes well beyond strong teeth and a charming smile. Like your hair and skin, the human mouth mirrors the things happening in your body. Often you can find the consequences of unhealthy lifestyle choices manifesting in your oral cavity. However, it works the other way, too. Poor oral hygiene can have detrimental effects on your overall health. For example, plaque on teeth can lead to decay, gum disease, and even potential heart problems.
Find out how plaque on teeth can lead to serious conditions – and what you can do to keep it under control.
What Is Dental Plaque?
Plaque is a colourless or yellowish film of bacteria that forms over teeth and along the gumline. The bacteria develop when fluids, food particles, and saliva combine, producing acids that destroy tooth enamel. Left untreated, plaque can cause cavities and gingivitis. Worse, it can harden into tartar.
What Is Tartar?
Think of tartar as extreme plaque. It refers to the hard yellow-brown calcified plaque deposits that coat the teeth and gums. Unlike plaque, which you can wash away with diligent toothbrushing, you’ll need a dentist to remove tartar. Untreated tartar leads to gum disease and other serious health concerns.
What Are the Symptoms of Plaque on Teeth?
Everyone has dental plaque – it forms within four to 12 hours after brushing, which is why disciplined oral hygiene practices keep it at bay. You’re in danger of buildup if you’re experiencing the following:
- Fuzzy feeling on the teeth
- Chronic bad bread (halitosis)
- Tooth decay and loss
- Abscessed tooth (infection)
- Receding gum line
- Red, swollen, and tender gums
- Bleeding gums after brushing or flossing
If any of these indicators present themselves, visit your dentist before it worsens.
How Does Plaque on Teeth Affect Your Health?
If you don’t get a handle on oral diseases right away, they can negatively affect the rest of your body. The effect of plaque and tartar extends beyond your periodontal health. Over the years, various research correlates plaque buildup to diseases like dementia, arthritis, and diabetes.
Plaque formation is linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
Research suggests a bidirectional relationship between periodontitis (a severe form of gum disease) and rheumatoid arthritis. At any given point, your body houses trillions of bacteria that are generally beneficial and protective against edema, a symptom of RA. However, bacteria from plaque shifts these microbial communities, potentially stimulating an immune response that triggers swelling.
Plaque impacts brain function.
According to the National Institutes of Health, poor oral hygiene initiates a domino effect. Plaque introduces increased bacteria in the mouth, which may cause inflammation, which may then raise the risk of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. This sequence of events could lead to dementia.
Remember how plaque on teeth can lead to gum disease and tooth loss? The report also notes a direct relationship between tooth loss, particularly in senior citizens, and cognitive incline. Those missing more teeth have a 48% higher risk of cognitive impairment and a 28% higher risk of dementia.
Gum disease and diabetes have a painful relationship.
Gum disease and diabetes have a two-way relationship. People suffering from less-than-optimal sugar levels are more susceptible to dry mouth, cavities, and other oral problems. However, even non-diabetics must be careful. Gum disease can trigger inflammation, which can result in elevated blood glucose. This consequence puts you more at risk for diabetes.
Can dental plaque cause heart problems?
Scientists have long realised a connection between gum disease and heart ailments. While the exact reasons are still unclear, Harvard Health lists several theories that explain the link:
- The bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontitis travel to the blood vessels. This effect causes swelling and damage, which may trigger heart attacks or strokes.
- Inflammation from the mentioned gum diseases attacks the body’s immune response and sets off vascular damage throughout the body.
- A possible separate variable, such as smoking or a lack of exercise, bridges gum concerns with heart problems.
How to Get Rid of Plaque on Teeth?
Stay on top of plaque on teeth by diligently following a dental hygiene routine:
- Brush twice daily for at least two to three minutes each time. Ask your dentist if they can recommend an electric toothbrush.
- Remember to clean where the gums and teeth meet.
- Choose fluoride-rich toothpaste.
- Use baking soda to help whiten teeth and neutralise cavity-causing acids.
- Baking soda acts as a gentle abrasive for removing plaque.
- Make it a habit to floss at least once daily to remove food remnants and bacteria.
- Oral irrigators work as well as regular floss.
- Use antibacterial mouthwash to reduce the risk of gum disease.
- Visit your dentist or oral hygienist every six months for check-ups and cleaning.
Everyone gets plaque on teeth. However, you are more vulnerable to its consequences if you have poor dental hygiene, crooked teeth, or braces. Reduce your risk of decay and damage, book an appointment with your dentist for recommendations.
Oral health and other diseases | FDI. (n.d.).
Corrêa, J. D., Fernandes, G., Calderaro, D. C., De Mendonça, S. M. S., Silva, T. A., Albiero, M. L., Cunha, F. Q., Xiao, E., Ferreira, G. A., Teixeira, A. L., Mukherjee, C., Leys, E. J., & Graves, D. T. (2019). Oral microbial dysbiosis linked to worsened periodontal condition in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Scientific Reports, 9(1).
Tooth loss in older adults linked to higher risk of dementia. (2021, October 5). National Institute on Aging.
Shmerling, R. H., MD. (2021, April 22). Gum disease and the connection to heart disease. Harvard Health.