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What’s the Deal with Plaque?

Plaque is often described as a sticky film composed of bacteria and salivary by-products. When it first develops, it’s clear – so it’s difficult to see on its own. If you don’t brush your teeth frequently, you may be able to feel plaque. If you run your tongue over your teeth after not brushing for a few hours, you might feel a fuzzy coating on them and it is usually white in appearance. That’s plaque.

Plaque can be problematic for a few reasons. The bacteria found in plaque go crazy when they come into contact with sugary or starchy foods. The bacteria eat the sugar, producing acids that wear away the teeth, potentially leading to cavities and in some cases, gum disease. If you don’t brush away plaque quickly enough, it hardens into tartar, which can irritate your gums and increase your risk for periodontal disease.

How Do Disclosing Tablets Work?

Since you can’t see the plaque in the beginning on its own, it can be difficult to know where it’s hiding on your teeth or how much you have. One way to spot plaque is to use disclosing tablets that you chew after brushing your teeth. The tablets contain a red dye that colours any lingering plaque on your teeth. Since you can easily see the dyed plaque spots, it’s easier to go after them when brushing.

To use the tablets (which you can find in the dental aisle at many stores), chew one and then rinse your mouth with water. The plaque remaining on your teeth will be dyed red or pink.

Do the Tablets Actually Help?

Using disclosing tablets may actually help you improve your toothbrushing technique, as they can show you parts of your teeth that you might not be cleaning as thoroughly as you should.

One study published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics examines the effect of showing images of plaque damage or using disclosing tablets on a group of 148, 11- to 25-year-olds who wore traditional braces. The participants were divided into four groups. A control group didn’t look at images or use tablets. One group was shown the damage caused by plaque buildup. Another group was given tablets, and the last group was given tablets and shown images of plaque damage. At the end of the study, the people in the group that received tablets and were shown images of plaque damage had the lowest amount of plaque buildup.

Another study, published in the Journal of Oral Research and Review, followed 100 people. Half of them received tablets to use at home for 21 days; the other half weren’t. Both groups were given similar instructions for brushing their teeth. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the half who used the tablets had improved their oral care routine at home and reduced the plaque buildup considerably.

Seeing the plaque on your teeth is just part of the process of achieving a healthy smile. Regular dental visits will also help you keep your plaque under control and your teeth and gums in the best shape possible.