Dental plaque identification at home

This test identifies areas of dental plaque, which shows how thoroughly (or not) you are brushing and flossing your teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance, composed of millions of bacteria, which collects around and between teeth. It is the major cause of Tooth decay and gum disease (gingivitis) and is hard to see because it is whitish colored, like teeth.

How the test is performed

There are 2 methods to perform this test. One method is with disclosing tablets. One tablet is chewed thoroughly, moving the mixture of saliva and dye over the teeth and gums for about 30 seconds. The tablet contains a red dye that will color the plaque. The mouth is then rinsed with water and the teeth are examined to identify pink-stained areas (unremoved plaque). A small dental mirror may help to check all areas.

The second method is a plaque light. With this method, a special fluorescent solution is swirled around the mouth. The mouth is rinsed gently with water, and the teeth and gums are examined while shining an ultraviolet plaque light into the mouth. The advantage of this method is that it leaves no pink stains in the mouth.

However in the office, dentists are often able to detect plaque through a thorough examination with dental instruments.

How to prepare for the test
Brush and floss your teeth thoroughly.

How the test will feel
Your mouth may feel slightly dried out after use of the dye.

Why the test is performed
The test is performed to help identify missed plaque and improve brushing and flossing of the teeth so that areas of plaque are not left. If the plaque is not removed, it can cause Tooth decay or cause the gums to bleed easily (gingivitis) and become red or swollen.

Normal Values
No plaque or food debris will be seen on the teeth.

What abnormal results mean
The disclosing tablets will stain areas of plaque a dark red. The plaque light solution will color the plaque a brilliant orange-yellow. The colored areas show where the brushing and flossing have missed. These areas need to be brushed again to get rid of the stained plaque.

What the risks are
There may be a residual pink discoloration of the lips and cheeks when the disclosing tablets are used. This discoloration is temporary.

Special considerations
The disclosing tablets may color the mouth and tongue red for a day. It is suggested that it be used at night so that the color will be gone by morning.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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