Dental plaque is an almost colourless sticky bacterial film, which adheres to the tooth surface. It is not removed by rinsing with water. The buildup of dental plaque around the gum margin leads to the development of gum disease in most people.
Gum disease causes inflamed, reddened gums which bleed easily during normal toothbrushing. The longer plaque is left on the teeth, the greater the risk of developing gum disease. Thus, daily careful plaque removal is required to prevent it. The most important plaque control method is toothbrushing.
Plaque is also involved in causing tooth decay. When foods containing sugars are eaten, the bacteria in plaque breakdown the sugars and acid is produced. This acid then dissolves the surface of the enamel under the plaque, causing tooth decay (caries). Plaque is difficult to see, which makes it difficult to remove. A special dye in the form of a disclosing tablet can be used to stain the plaque making it easier to see. These tablets are available in most pharmacies and are an aid to plaque removal. A more detailed discussion of the factors influencing the decay process and methods for the control of plaque is given here.