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Have you ever run your tongue along the front of your teeth and felt a slimy coating? That “fuzzy-toothed” feeling is the buildup of bacteria.

It’s called plaque, and if you let it stick around for too long, it can damage your teeth and gums.

What can you do to stop plaque in its tracks? We've got answers for you.

Step 1: Brush Every Day

Once a day is good, but the American Dental Association (ADA) says to brush twice a day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste.

“Brushing twice daily prevents plaque from forming in the first place and disrupts any plaque that has already started to form and mature,” says JoAnn R. Gurenlian, PhD. She's a professor in the department of dental hygiene at Idaho State University.

Make sure you get to all the areas of your mouth with your toothbrush, including teeth, gums, tongue, and the insides of your cheeks. In general, the process should take about 2 minutes.

Step 2: Clean Between Your Teeth

There may not be much of a fun factor to flossing, but cleaning between your teeth every day can have a crucial impact on your oral health.

If you have a tough time reaching certain parts of your mouth to floss, ask your dentist about interdental brushes, floss aides, or water- or air-flossing devices.

Step 3: Use a Mouth Rinse

Know your terms: mouth rinse and mouthwash are two different things. “Mouthwash is used to freshen breath,” Gurenlian says. “An antiseptic mouth rinse, however, actually helps reduce the bacterial load found in plaque.”

Using mouth rinse prevents plaque buildup more than just brushing and flossing alone. Gurenlian suggests a 30-second swish twice each day as part of your tooth-cleaning routine.

Step 4: Avoid Sticky, Sugary Food

The hardest foods to remove from your teeth are the ones that cling when you chew. Think raisins, granola bars, or sticky candy. Sugary and starchy foods are some of the most harmful to teeth, too.

“If sugar is not removed from your teeth shortly after you eat it, plaque uses it to help create tooth decay,” Gurenlian says. The faster you can get food off your teeth, the less likely you are to get cavities.

Step 5: Go to the Dentist

It’s key to have someone who knows teeth keep tabs on yours. See your dentist and dental hygienist on a regular basis, so they can look for signs of disease.

How often you have to go will depend in part on how well you care for your teeth. Most people have to visit only twice a year.

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