Dental Plaque and Gum Disease

dental plaque and gum disease

Dental plaque is a soft deposit that forms on the surface of teeth. It contains many types of bacteria (germs). You can usually remove plaque quite easily by tooth brushing and cleaning between teeth.

Calculus is hardened calcified plaque. It is sometimes called tartar. It sticks firmly to teeth. Generally, it can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist, with special instruments.

Gum disease (periodontal disease) means infection or inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth. Depending on the severity, gum disease is generally divided into two types - gingivitis and periodontitis.


Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. Most cases of gingivitis are caused by plaque. This is then called plaque-associated gingivitis.


It occurs if gingivitis becomes worse and progresses to involve the tissue that joins the teeth to the gums (the periodontium), and/or the supporting bone. Plaque can be removed from shallow pockets (up to about 3 mm deep) by brushing and cleaning teeth in a normal way. However, deeper pockets need to be treated by a dentist, as normal brushing and cleaning will not reach the bottom of the pocket.

What causes plaque-associated gum disease?

The following increase your risk of developing marked plaque-associated gum disease:

  1. Poor oral hygiene.
  2. Smoking.
  3. Having a poor immune system.
  4. If you have diabetes.

What are the symptoms of plaque-associated gum disease?

Mild gingivitis does not cause any symptoms and so you may not realise that you have it. The gums look slightly swollen and reddened. Moderate gingivitis can cause more marked swelling and reddening of the gums. The gums often bleed a little when you clean your teeth. Discomfort or pain from the gums is rare if you only have gingivitis.

Periodontitis often does not cause any symptoms until an affected tooth becomes loose. However, in some cases, symptoms develop and may include:

  1. Halitosis (bad breath).
  2. A foul taste in your mouth.
  3. Some pus formation in small pockets between the teeth and gums.
  4. Pain and difficulty eating.
  5. Affected teeth becoming loose and eventually falling out if not treated.

How can I prevent plaque-associated gum disease?

Brushing your teeth - for two minutes, at least twice a day. Ideally, brush your teeth either just before eating, or at least an hour after eating.

Cleaning between your teeth after brushing once a day, but ideally twice a day. This is to remove plaque from between teeth. Dental floss is commonly used to do this.

What is the treatment of plaque-associated gum disease?

If you have gingivitis

The measures described above to prevent gum disease will often clear mild gingivitis. If gingivitis is more severe, in addition your dentist or doctor may advise an antiseptic mouthwash (and/or antiseptic toothpaste, gel, or spray). Chlorhexidine is a commonly used antiseptic mouthwash.

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