Plaque. The mouth is home to 300-500 different species of bacteria. These bacteria combine with proteins and food debris in the saliva to form a sticky yellowish substance called plaque on the teeth and surrounding soft tissue. After 4 days of undisturbed plaque formation about 30% of each tooth will be covered with visible plaque. This early plaque consists primarily of relatively benign bacteria. After 4 days there is a significant shift in the type of bacteria found in the plaque from benign to much more harmful bacteria.
Calculus. Calculus, or tartar, is plaque that has mineralized. It appears as a chalky yellow/brown material on the teeth above the gums and as a brown/black material below the gums. The process of mineralization may begin as soon as 4 hours after plaque begins to form. Calculus cannot be completely removed by brushing and flossing. Regular visits to your hygienist will control the amount of calculus and plaque.
Periodontal disease. The bacteria in plaque and calculus cause periodontal disease, which is the most common disease in the world. Gingivitis is a mild form that causes inflammation of the gums (red, swollen, bleed easily). Periodontitis is a more severe form that causes gradual or periodic bone loss around the teeth and if uncontrolled can lead to tooth loss. These diseases are painless and may not cause noticeable symptoms.
Dental cleanings. If you brush and floss regularly, and are able to keep your teeth clean, you may only need to have your teeth cleaned every 4-6 months. If you have difficulty keeping your teeth clean or have more advanced disease you may need to have your teeth cleaned every 2-3 months. If it has been some time since you have had your teeth cleaned you may need to have a deep cleaning with local anesthesia and it may require multiple visits to clean your whole mouth.