What is Dental Plaque and How is it Formed on Teeth?

in Jan 23, 2024

Dental plaque is a common oral health problem that affects millions of people around the world. It is a sticky, colorless or yellowish film that forms on the surface of the teeth and along the gum line. Dental plaque contains bacteria, food particles, saliva, and other substances that can harm the teeth and gums. If left untreated, dental plaque can lead to cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. In this article, we will explain what dental plaque is, how it is formed, what factors contribute to its build-up, and how to prevent and control it.

Close-up of teeth with yellowish-brown dental plaque near the gum line.

Key Takeaways

  • Dental plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth and gum line, composed of bacteria, food particles, saliva, and other substances.
  • Plaque formation occurs in stages, starting with the formation of a thin layer on the teeth and ending with the maturation of a protective biofilm.
  • Factors such as diet, oral hygiene, saliva, and genetics contribute to the buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums.
  • Plaque is the main cause of cavities, gum disease, and bad breath, emphasizing the importance of preventing and controlling plaque through good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits.

What is Dental Plaque?

Dental plaque, also known as oral plaque, is a biofilm that forms on the teeth and gums. A biofilm is a complex community of microorganisms that adhere to a surface and produce a protective matrix. Dental plaque is composed of various types of bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutans, Lactobacillus, and Actinomyces, as well as food debris, saliva, and other substances. Dental plaque is soft and sticky, and can be easily removed by brushing and flossing. However, if dental plaque is not removed regularly, it can harden and become tartar, also known as calculus, which is more difficult to remove and requires professional dental cleaning.

How is Dental Plaque Formed?

Dental plaque formation is a continuous process that occurs in several stages. 

The first stage is the formation of a pellicle, which is a thin layer of proteins and glycoproteins that coat the teeth and gums. The pellicle acts as a binding site for bacteria to attach to the teeth. 

The second stage is the initial adhesion of bacteria to the pellicle, which is mediated by specific receptors and molecules on the bacterial surface and the pellicle. 

The third stage is the growth and multiplication of bacteria, which form microcolonies and interact with each other through chemical signals and physical contact.

The fourth stage is the maturation of the biofilm, which involves the production of a matrix of polysaccharides, proteins, and extracellular DNA that surrounds and protects the bacteria. The matrix also facilitates the exchange of nutrients, waste, and genetic material among the bacteria. 

The fifth stage is the detachment and dispersal of bacteria, which can occur due to mechanical forces, such as chewing and brushing, or biological factors, such as changes in pH, oxygen, and temperature.

Stages of dental plaque

There are several factors that can influence the amount and composition of dental plaque on the teeth and gums. Some of these factors are:

  • Diet: Eating foods that are high in sugar and starch can provide a source of energy for the bacteria in plaque, which can produce acids that erode the enamel and cause cavities. 
  • Oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene habits, such as not brushing and flossing regularly, can allow plaque to accumulate and harden into tartar.
  • Saliva: Saliva plays an important role in maintaining oral health, as it helps wash away food particles and plaque, neutralize acids, and remineralize the enamel. However, some factors can reduce the amount and quality of saliva, such as dehydration, medication, smoking, and aging. 
  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to produce more plaque or have more harmful bacteria in their mouth.

foods containing high sugar and starch leading to plaque formation

The Link Between Plaque and Dental Diseases

Dental plaque is the main cause of several oral diseases, such as:

  • Cavities: Cavities, also known as dental caries, are holes or damage in the enamel of the teeth. Cavities are caused by the acids produced by the bacteria in plaque, which dissolve the minerals in the enamel and create weak spots. If left untreated, cavities can grow deeper and reach the dentin, the pulp, and the nerve of the tooth, causing pain, sensitivity, infection, and tooth loss.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection and inflammation of the gums and the supporting tissues of the teeth. Gum disease is caused by the toxins and enzymes released by the bacteria in plaque, which irritate and damage the gums and the bone. Common symptoms include swollen and bleeding gums, indicating the severity of the infection and the need for prompt dental care.
  • Bad breath: Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is an unpleasant odor that emanates from the mouth. Bad breath is often caused by the accumulation of plaque and bacteria on the tongue, the teeth, and the gums, which produce volatile sulphur compounds that have a foul smell

perfora's water flosser collection that removes 99.9% plaque

Prevention and Control of Plaque

The best way to prevent and control plaque is to maintain good oral hygiene and visit the dentist regularly. Some of the steps that can help keep plaque at bay are:

  • Brushing: Brushing the teeth at least twice a day, preferably after every meal, can help remove plaque and food debris from the teeth and gums. To maximize the benefits of your oral hygiene routine, consider using Perfora’s toothpastes, which are specially formulated to provide effective cleaning and protection for your teeth and gums.
  • Flossing: Flossing once a day can help remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line, where the toothbrush cannot reach. 
  • Rinsing: Rinsing the mouth with water or an antibacterial mouthwash can help wash away any remaining plaque and bacteria, and freshen the breath. 
  • Dental cleaning: Dental cleaning, also known as scaling and polishing, is a professional procedure that involves removing plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums, using special instruments and techniques. 
  • Diet and lifestyle: Diet and lifestyle can also affect the formation and composition of plaque, and the development of oral diseases. Some of the tips that can help prevent and control plaque are:
    • Limiting the intake of sugary and starchy foods and drinks, especially between meals, and rinsing the mouth with water after consuming them.
    • Eating a balanced and nutritious diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products, which can provide the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy teeth and gums.
    • Drinking plenty of water, which can help keep the mouth moist and wash away plaque and bacteria.



Dental plaque is a common and serious oral health problem that can cause cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Dental plaque is formed by the adhesion and growth of bacteria on the teeth and gums, and is influenced by various factors, such as diet, oral hygiene, saliva, and genetics. Dental plaque can be prevented and controlled by following good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing, flossing, rinsing, and dental cleaning, and by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. By keeping plaque at bay, one can enjoy a beautiful smile and a healthy mouth for life.


Frequently Asked Questions on Causes of Plaque on Teeth

Q1: Can plaque in teeth be cured?

Plaque in teeth can be cured by removing it regularly and preventing it from hardening into tartar. This can be done by following good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing, flossing, rinsing, and dental cleaning, and by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Q2: Is it safe to remove tooth plaque?

It is safe to remove tooth plaque, as long as it is done properly and gently. Plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing the teeth and gums, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, and by rinsing the mouth with water or an antibacterial mouthwash. 

Q3: Can plaque be removed naturally?

Plaque can be removed naturally, by using some natural remedies that can help loosen and dissolve plaque and bacteria. Some of these remedies are:

  • Baking soda: Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can help scrub away plaque and stains from the teeth. 
  • Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent that can help kill the bacteria in plaque.
  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent that can help reduce plaque and bacteria, and soothe the gums.

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