Are you cleaning your teeth properly? Plaque disclosing tablets show you where there is plaque buildup on your teeth, so you know where to focus your brushing and flossing efforts. Plaque tablets are a great way to promote better oral hygiene for children, but they can be just as beneficial for adults, too!
If you've never used dental tablets to show plaque on your teeth, you might be wondering which ones are best, how they work, and how to use them. Or would a plaque disclosing solution or toothpaste suit you better?
Well, keep reading and all will soon become clear. We'll go through the various products that let you see the plaque on your teeth so you can decide which is best for you. You can also read about how to use plaque disclosing tablets and solutions to make sure you are removing as much plaque as possible when you brush.
Table of contents
Can you see plaque on teeth?
It's not always visible, but you can feel it. Dental plaque is a biofilm which naturally builds up on teeth throughout the day. The bacteria in plaque consume food particles in our mouths. They produce enamel-eroding acids in the process. If not removed with proper brushing and flossing, plaque can harden into tartar, which can only be removed with a professional dental cleaning.
Over time, tartar and plaque lead to dental problems including:
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Bad breath
- Yellow teeth
The good news is that plaque is quite straightforward to remove with daily brushing and flossing. Our article about how to brush teeth properly explains exactly what you should be doing.
The problem is, plaque is very hard to see since it is translucent or pale yellow. You might be able to feel it with your tongue – it can make teeth feel slimy or rough – but it's hard to know if you're doing a good job of removing all the plaque on your teeth (or your child's teeth) when you brush and floss. It may be that you're missing certain teeth without realising, or not paying enough attention to the gum line, for instance.
That's where dental plaque disclosing tablets and other plaque revealing products come in. You can use these to show plaque on your or your child's teeth before and/or after brushing, so you can get better at removing it all.
The main things to know about plaque are:
- It's bad to let plaque build up on your teeth.
- You can remove plaque by brushing and flossing, provided you do it well.
- Plaque disclosing tablets help you see plaque on your teeth so you know if you're removing it effectively.
Now, let's look at the different plaque disclosing products available in the UK.
Products that show plaque on teeth
Biofilm disclosing products are available in a number of forms:
- Chewable tablets
- Liquid solutions
In the UK, chewable tablets are by far the most widely available product to reveal plaque on teeth. Liquid rinses are harder to find, while toothpastes are, for the most part, still making their way over from the US.
They all work in pretty much the same way though. Plaque revealing products contain a coloured dye, usually vegetable based, which sticks to plaque and makes it easy to see which areas of the mouth require extra attention.
Some plaque tablets have a two-tone formula which shows old plaque (which has been there for 12-24 hours or more) in one colour and newer plaque in another colour. A lot of old plaque indicates that you are not removing plaque properly when you brush, and you're at risk of tartar buildup. The goal should be to have less and less dye stick to your teeth as you improve your oral hygiene routine.
Who can benefit from plaque disclosing products?
Dentists might recommend a plaque discloser for patients who are at particular risk of plaque buildup, such as children who are still learning how to brush. It can benefit adults as well.
- People with limited manual dexterity
- Anyone with braces (flossing with braces can be very tricky)
- People with receding gums or gum disease
- People with certain chronic medical conditions
But in fact, anyone can use plaque disclosing tablets to reveal plaque left behind after brushing. Even teenagers and adults who think they do a good job brushing their teeth might be surprised at what they're missing.
Plaque disclosers might also show that your tongue is covered in bacterial gunk. If this is the case, consider purchasing a tongue scraper to top off your dental care routine.
Do they really work?
The tablets themselves don't do anything to make teeth cleaner; you still need to make an effort to brush the areas you've been neglecting. However, it seems they do make a difference to the brushing habits of people who use them.
Research published in the Journal of Oral Research and Review concludes that “usage of plaque disclosing agent improves the quality of daily oral hygiene measures performed at home”.
Another study published by the American Association of Orthodontics looked into the effect of plaque disclosers compared to being shown the severe consequences of letting plaque build up. Focusing on 11- to 25-year-olds wearing fixed braces, the conclusion was that biofilm disclosing tablets alone made little difference to oral hygiene. However, people who were shown images of plaque damage and also used plaque tablets showed the greatest improvement overall.
How often to use a plaque discloser
It's really up to you how often you or your child use dental plaque disclosers. When you first start using them, you might want to check once a day to see how your brushing is improving.
Over time, as you get better at removing plaque, you can cut back to once or twice a week, just to check that you're continuing to clean plaque effectively. If you notice more plaque building up again, it could be worth using them more often.
Plaque disclosing tablets
Chewable plaque revealing tablets are the most common type of discloser. They are hard tablets of compressed powder, similar in size to the paracetamol or ibuprofen you might be used to taking. But rather than wash them straight down, you keep them in your mouth and chew them.
As you chew on the tablet, your saliva mixes with the powder and carries the dye around your mouth. The dye sticks to plaque and highlights the areas that haven't been cleaned properly.
How to use plaque disclosing tablets
Plaque tablets are quite simple to use; just follow these steps:
- Brush teeth as normal
- Put one tablet in your mouth and chew it until it breaks down
- Let it mix with your saliva then use your tongue to spread saliva all over your teeth and gums
- Don't swallow, but spit out the mixture and rinse well with water
- Look at your mouth under good light and check where the dye is darkest. With two-tone tablets, usually old plaque is blue and new plaque is red.
- Brush and floss your teeth again, focusing on the stained areas until all the dye has gone.
In the video below you can see all of this in practice:
You can also use disclosing tablets before brushing your teeth, to see how dirty they really are. This can be a helpful tactic for children who are complaining about having to brush in the first place!
Plaque tablets can be a bit messy; they are designed to stain plaque, but they may also stain your lips and anything else they come into contact with. Applying lip balm or Vaseline to the lips first can help, but still, you might not want to use one of these tablets right before going to work or meeting someone!
The dye in the tablets can stain clothes and tile grout too (although it should wipe off tiles and porcelain). You might want to give younger children an old t-shirt to wear, and you can cover tiles with a towel to prevent staining where you don't want it.
Choosing plaque tablets
You can find dental plaque disclosing tablets in pharmacies, supermarkets, dental surgeries and online. They cost around 12p – 15p per tablet, depending on the brand and quantity you buy.
Some things to consider when choosing between brands:
- Flavour: They are often fruit-flavoured but if you don't like the taste of one brand, try another.
- Dual colour: If you want to be able to see the difference between old and new plaque, be sure to choose a two-tone discloser. One colour shows which plaque you're regularly missing; the other colour shows what's accumulated in the past 12 hours or so.
- Shelf life: Although tablets usually have a long shelf life, they will expire eventually. If buying in bulk to get a better price, make sure you will use them all in time.
Here are a couple of popular brands of plaque disclosing tablet available in the UK:
These tablets are highly rated on Amazon with no real complaints about taste, just a few people noting how messy they and how difficult it is to get their mouth completely clean afterwards. Many people say they use them to encourage their children to brush their teeth.
My daughter went through a phase of refusing to clean her teeth. Bought these and after using one she has cleaned her teeth twice a day ever since!
Ceplac revealing tablets are flavoured with menthol and eucalyptus, which not everyone is fan of. Still, they do a good job of showing you where you've missed plaque while brushing.
This Ceplac box of 12 could be a good place to start if you don't want to spend more on a larger quantity.
Plaque disclosing tablets for kids
Chewable plaque tablets are fine for both children and adults to use, although children may only need to use half a tablet at a time. Kids might be more picky about the taste of them, so try switching brands if your child doesn't like the first ones you try.
Give them more motivation to brush thoroughly by turning it into a competition with you or their siblings – brush together and then use a tablet to see whose teeth are cleaner.
It's important that children have a baby or kids' toothbrush which is the right size for their mouth and soft bristles. You could make the whole experience more fun by purchasing a children's toothbrushing kit which includes a toothbrush, an egg timer, and plaque disclosing tablets.
Alternatively, children may benefit from using an electric toothbrush which is specially designed for their age. Read our guide to find out more about the best electric toothbrushes for kids and the special features that can help them brush better.
Our guide to children's oral health has more information and tips for taking care of children's teeth. And the video below explains more benefits of disclosing plaque on children's teeth, and how to get the best results:
Plaque disclosing solutions
If you have problems using a chewable tablet to show plaque on your teeth, it's possible to get a plaque revealing rinse instead.
TePe make PlaqSearch Advanced disclosing solution which, like their tablets, uses a two-tone dye to show old and new plaque. You swish it around your mouth for about 30 seconds, just like mouthwash, before spitting and checking where the dye has stuck.
Note that you shouldn't try to make your own plaque disclosing liquid by dissolving a tablet in water and then rinsing with it. The water will dilute the dye and make it less effective.
Plaque disclosing toothpastes
It's also possible to buy toothpaste which dyes the plaque in your mouth. However, the choice in the UK is limited at the moment.
Piksters Plaque GLO is a good option if you don't like the red or blue colour left behind by tablets (and the unwanted staining it can cause). The plaque dye isn't visible until you shine a special light on your teeth – only then can you see the areas that need further brushing or flossing. Each tube of Plaque GLO is supplied with a little torch, and it's available in mint flavour for adults or tropical flavour for kids (both contain the same 1000ppm of fluoride).
It's a bit more pricey than regular toothpaste, but you don't need to use it every time you brush. Once or twice a week will give you a good indication of how you are doing at cleaning plaque from your teeth (but use another toothpaste the rest of the time, of course!).
There are various products that you can use to show plaque on teeth and discover which areas you need to brush more carefully. Chewable plaque disclosing tablets are most widely available, and suitable for most children and adults. Rinses and toothpastes are also an option, if you prefer.
All of these products are designed to help you get better at cleaning your teeth and improve your overall oral hygiene. It's also important to visit your dentist for regular checkups.
Journal of Oral Research and Review: A prospective case-control study to assess and compare the role of disclosing agent in improving the patient compliance in plaque control. Consulted 7th September 2019.
NCBI: Effect of visual method vs plaque disclosure in enhancing oral hygiene in adolescents and young adults: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Consulted 7th September 2019.