Plaque is a soft buildup on teeth that accumulates over time, especially after eating sugary or carby food. Plaque produces acid as it sits on the teeth, which erode enamel and can cause decay.
Plaque can also build up around the gums and cause gum disease. If the gum disease becomes severe enough, it can cause the gums to pull away from teeth and allow even more bacteria inside, eroding the underlying bone that provides structure for the teeth.
The reason dentists recommend brushing at least 2-3 times per day is that plaque begins building up on teeth 4-6 hours after eating food. Brushing repeatedly throughout the day helps prevent it from staying for long.
When brushing your teeth, the amount of time you spend with the brush can make a bigger difference than you might think.
A study published on ADHA.org reviewed average brushing times and amount of plaque removed. Looking at the shortest brushing times (30 seconds) versus the longest brushing times (180 seconds), the researchers found that the longest brushing times removed 55% more plaque than the shortest.
That’s an important distinction, because with the busy schedules many households have it’s easy to spend less time brushing than we should.
This study gives a simple and tangible example of just how much benefit an extra minute or two can make.
Plaque that doesn’t get brushed away eventually hardens into tartar, which is more difficult to remove.
Brushing generally doesn’t remove all the tartar that accumulates on teeth, even when the brushing is thorough. The only way to fully remove tartar is with a dental cleaning appointment.