Can Plaque Buildup Lead to Missing Teeth?

Many patients realize that tooth decay weakens tooth structure and can lead to missing teeth. However, some may not understand how tooth decay comes to be. All tooth decay starts somewhere, so although small issues like plaque may seem fairly innocuous, it is the first stage in a sinister cycle of tooth destruction. But what is plaque?

The sticky, invisible film of bacteria that constantly builds up over the surface of teeth is known as plaque. Removing all bacteria from the mouth is impossible, and in fact, many of the bacteria in the mouth are good for you. But keeping bad bacteria at bay by brushing twice daily can greatly improve oral health.

The progression of plaque buildup

Plaque begins to build up as an invisible film

Plaque is the root cause of most oral health issues, including tooth decay and gum disease. Although plaque cannot be seen in most cases, advanced plaque presents as pale yellow, especially near the gumline.

Tartar starts to form

When plaque is allowed to accumulate and is not removed within a few hours, it can harden. This mineralized plaque is known as tartar. Tartar, unlike plaque, is visible. Stains are trapped within the newly hardened tartar and are brownish or dark yellow in color. Look for signs of tartar between teeth and around the gum line.

Tooth decay comes next

Plaque bacteria feed on carbohydrates (starches and sugars) left in the mouth from eating and drinking. When allowed to grow, these bacteria begin to colonize. Bacteria can multiply even faster when exposed to foods they like, such as sugary foods and drink. The bacteria then digest their food source, producing acid as waste. This acid eats away at enamel, destroying tooth structure and causing small holes to form in teeth. These small holes are called cavities.

Treatment: Root canal

With quick access inside the tooth by way of the newly formed cavities, plaque bacteria can then move through the pulp with ease. Pulp is the tissue and blood vessels found deep within a tooth root. As bacteria find their way into the root, they begin to attack the pulp. This condition is known as pulpitis. At this point, the only hope of saving the tooth in question is a root canal procedure.

A dentist performing the root canal therapy goes into the tooth and clears any infected pulp. After cleaning and preparing the area, a crown is placed on the now hollowed tooth root. Root canals can temporarily save a tooth, but they usually do not last forever. If a root canal is not an option, the tooth will need to be extracted.

Consequence: Tooth loss

Finally, what started as an innocent, colorless film of bacteria has turned into something irreversible. Teeth will begin to loosen when their structure is extremely compromised. If not cared for, the loosened teeth will then fall out and become missing teeth.

How to prevent missing teeth due to plaque

Practicing excellent oral hygiene is your first and best defense against plaque-related tooth loss. Brush twice daily with a soft bristled brush, and floss once daily.

Flossing is extremely important, as this simple action clears the area between teeth and prevents tooth decay in these hard-to-reach spaces. Cavities between teeth require more tooth structure to be taken out in order to fix and fill them. By taking tooth decay out of the equation between teeth, your teeth will be healthier and less susceptible to plaque buildup.

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