Plaque Can Contain 1,000 Different Bacteria — Here’s How to Keep Your Teeth Clean

After learning what plaque is, having "a little something in your teeth" seems like the understatement of the century.

"Plaque is the normal accumulation of soft food particles left in the mouth after eating," Leonard S. Gordon, DDS, a dentist and the founder of the Gordon Center For General and Advanced Dentistry, confirms. He adds that these particles can contain up to 1,000 different bacteria.

"Plaque that remains around the teeth will eventually become hard, as it is mixed with the water and minerals in saliva. This hardened substance is called tartar or calculus."

According to Gordon, heavy plaque is more food particles than saliva — and, as you may have guessed, light plaque is more saliva-based with just the bacteria left behind by food. The composition of plaque dictates its color, which can range from clear to yellow to brown to gray.

I almost regret asking, but Gordon confirms that plaque can have a smell depending on the food-to-salvia ratio — he says to take a whiff of your floss for proof. (Please pause while I compose myself.)

Now you see why your dentist is adamant about how failure to remove plaque can lead to cavities and gum diseases — and things can escalate from there. So, let's talk about spotting plaque buildup.

"Increasing colorization of the tooth near the gum line, redness of the gum instead of an even pink color, bad breath, or bleeding gums when brushing are a few signs of a buildup of plaque," Gordon says.

It's no wonder he admits to personally removing plaque three times a day. While home (after breakfast and before bed!), he flosses, does a pre-brush rinse, brushes with an electric toothbrush for 1-2 minutes, uses a tongue scraper, and rinses with an antibacterial mouth rinse. Since he's at work after lunch, he only flosses, brushes with a manual toothbrush, and rinses with an antibacterial mouthwash.

You don't have to go to Gordon's extensive steps to have a healthy mouth — after all, it's impossible to be 100 percent plaque free — but his routine is great self-care inspiration. OK, now you can put the laptop down and go dig up that floss.

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