Testing and Tracking Plaque Levels at Home
When you brush and floss, are you sure you’re getting all the plaque that stuck on your teeth? One way to know is to test and track plaque at home. At-home products available to test and track plaque include disclosing tablets, solutions and swabs. These products stain plaque red with a harmless dye so you can track how well you and your child are brushing and flossing. As you might imagine, this is particularly beneficial for kids since it gives them a visual representation of how effective their oral hygiene efforts are.
What Is Dental Plaque?
Did you know that there is a silent and clear substance that tries to eat away at your teeth every single day? This substance is called plaque, and it’s the cause of all tooth decay and gum disease problems. It attaches to your tooth surfaces and its acidic content eats away at your hard tooth enamel, making it weaker overtime until it eventually decays. But, how did that plaque get there in the first place?
You can blame your food for that. Plaque forms in your mouth when you eat or drink anything that contains sugar or starch (which is most things). Sugar and various mouth bacteria combine together in your mouth, and without you knowing, they create a sticky combination that is detrimental to your teeth and gums.
When that sugar and bacteria combines, it attaches to your teeth, especially along your gum line. If you go look in the mirror right now, you might even see some traces of plaque. You can have a very tiny amount of dental plaque or you can have a lot. It’s tricky to see, so it can build up over time without you even knowing. Plaque that sits on the teeth for long amounts of time can actually harden, becoming what we call “tartar”. At that stage, you can’t get it off by yourself.
Problems that Stem From High Plaque Levels
Why is plaque such a problem in the first place? Many people don’t realize that they have plaque, nor do they realize the problems it can cause in the long run. Half of all American adults (or 64.7 million) have some form of gum disease and around 92% of Americans have had tooth decay before. Both of these problems all stem from the effects of plaque. In fact, they only happen because plaque gets left on the teeth. Because plaque is acidic, it eats away at the minerals on a patient’s teeth, which is called “demineralization”. Over time, the teeth weaken and decay.
With the gums, plaque sits along the gumline. The acidity of it makes the gums irritated, and they will start to bleed easier when a person has the first stage of gum disease, which is gingivitis. Over time, the gums become red due to irritation and eventually they start to recede. This recession is the major kicker, as gums can recede so far that your teeth fall out. It’s best to simply get plaque under control and keep up on your plaque levels instead of ever dealing with the harsher side-effects of plaque.
How Do You know Your Plaque Levels?
There are products that have been made to help patients know how they are doing with their dental plaque levels. These are dental products that contain various dyes that highlight where dental plaque is. If you think you are brushing and flossing your teeth well, but you are still ending up with tooth decay, bleeding gums, or problems with gingivitis and gum disease, these products can help you know if your teeth are as clean as you think they are. In many cases, patients are missing areas of their teeth during their brushing and flossing—such as right along the gum line.
You can check your plaque levels at home without having to enter a dental office. This is ideal for in-between your biannual checkups and exams, especially if you have had problems with tooth decay and gingivitis in the past. At-home products that patients can use include disclosing tablets, swabs and solutions.
You can use these steps for doing your own self-examination to check your plaque levels:
- Brush and floss your teeth, making sure to brush the recommended 2 minutes with a soft-bristled brush.
- Follow the instructions on your disclosing product. Many people use disclosing tablets. For tablets, chew only one tablet and let it mix with your saliva. You can do this by swishing for up to 30 seconds and then spitting.
- For a disclosing solution, swich the solution for 30 seconds and then spit it out.
- Gently rinse your mouth with water after your disclosing test.
- Plaque that is still on your teeth will be dyed a darker color (usually a red color). Make sure to take note of all the areas (especially on your back molars) that have been dyed.
- Then, brush and floss your teeth again to see if you’ve removed that plaque.
- You want to continue to use your disclosing treatment to test your plaque levels each night. Do this until you start to see no remaining traces of plaque. That is when you have learned to brush those areas efficiently.
- After you’ve mastered cleaning your teeth, test your plaque levels once a month to make sure you are keeping up on your cleaning.
If you aren’t sure how to work disclosing tablets or solutions, we can help you. Often, we have some samples in-office and we can show you how they work. If you come in for your biannual dental cleanings and exams, we can let you know how your plaque levels are and if you are in the danger zone for gum disease. If you already have gum disease, we have periodontal treatments to help get your mouth healthy once more. To schedule your comprehensive dental exam, call Dr. Ania’s office today at 303-443-0998!