Antiplaque toothpaste is dentifrice that is a powder, paste or liquid for cleaning the teeth. It contains at least one ingredient specially chosen for its plaque-fighting properties that help to reduce and remove the sticky and colorless film composed of sugars and bacteria that forms on the surface of the teeth after eating. Such a toothpaste might be manufactured commercially and sold in stores, or it might be homemade and consist of no more than one or two basic ingredients to which a plaque-fighting agent has been added.
An ingredient often used in the formulation of an antiplaque toothpaste is the sugar alcohol xylitol. Although xylitol and sugar are both very sweet, unlike sugar, xylitol helps to create an unfavorable environment for bacteria by making it difficult for it to adhere to the surface of the teeth. Xylitol even has the ability to kill some bacteria. If sugars and bacteria are not able to develop as a sticky film on teeth, plaque is not formed. Another substance that frequently is seen in the list of ingredients appearing on an antiplaque toothpaste is zinc citrate trihydrate, which helps to inhibit the formation of tartar, the result of longstanding plaque that has hardened from the accumulation of minerals from saliva and food.
Plaque should be removed from teeth as soon as possible because, if it is allowed to remain, it will harden into tartar, which eventually will cause inflammation of the bone that surrounds the teeth; this is known as periodontia. Tartar has been linked to the many factors associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Unlike plaque, which can be removed by thorough cleansing of the teeth with or without an antiplaque toothpaste, tartar almost always has to be removed by a dental hygienist. Many people believe that use of an antiplaque toothpaste is as effective against the formation and removal of plaque as it is to brush the teeth thoroughly after every meal, to floss and to rinse with a natural substance known for its ability to kill bacteria in the mouth, such as strong peppermint tea.
Studies have shown that bicarbonate of soda helps to inhibit the formation of plaque because of its mild abrasive properties. Baking soda toothpaste can be as simple as adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to 4 ounces (118 ml) of lukewarm water. Although this natural product can be used as-is, without being mixed with water, it generally is not a good idea to brush the teeth directly with it because it is salty and there is the risk of weakening the natural enamel on teeth. Natural enamel serves as a protective barrier and "seal" on a tooth.