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Evaluate Your Oral Hygiene Skills Using a Plaque Scoring Test

By Dr. Scott Frey

You can’t have healthy teeth without great oral hygiene, and you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Thankfully there is a simple way for you to measure your plaque score to track your brushing effectiveness at home, all you need is a disposable mouth mirror and plaque disclosing tablets from any local pharmacy. 

Plaque Disclosing and Mouth Mirror

Weekly Plaque Tracking

Set aside some time once each week to perform the test. I think first thing Saturday mornings (or whichever day your weekend starts) work best. This way you can sit down and perform our test for gum health, and record your plaque score at the same time. Make sure you perform the gum health test prior to using the disclosing tablets to calculate your plaque score because they will interfere with your gum health test results.

Don’t worry too much about brushing right before your plaque score. As long as you don’t do take your plaque score following meals and perform the test at about the same time each week, you will get a good record of where plaque is building up between cleanings and you will be able to compare results week to week. Taking a plaque score is also a great tool to help your children develop brushing skills as well.

Step 1: Disclose Your Dental Plaque

First thing’s first you’ll need to make the plaque built up on your teeth visible using the vegetable dye in the plaque disclosing tablets.

Take a disclosing tablet and chew it up thoroughly in your mouth. Rub the chewed particles from the tablets around on your teeth with your tongue and swish the accumulated saliva in your mouth for about 60 seconds before spitting and rinsing with water. The disclosing tablet dye will have colored the plaque on your teeth.

 Plaque Disclosing

Follow the instructions for using the plaque disclosing tablets carefully, usually plaque is stained pink but some tablets come in different colors. It is important to read the directions for the brand you buy so you do not misinterpret the results.

Step 2: Record Your Plaque Score

Now that you can see the plaque on your teeth, you will be able to score tooth surfaces according to how clean they are. You’ll also notice how bacteria tend to collect and grow along the gumline and between teeth, a concept we have talked about when discussing brushing technique.

The scoring system for tooth surfaces is as follows:

0 = No Plaque on the tooth surface
1 = 1/3 of the tooth surface covered
2 = Between 1/3 and 2/3 of the tooth surface covered
3 = More than 2/3 of the tooth surface covered

You don’t have to score every tooth surface in your mouth, but there are 6 areas that you will want to record to give yourself a total plaque score. If you happen to be missing one of the teeth listed below of if there is a crown or other restoration obscuring your reading, just record a score for the same surface of that tooth’s nearest neighbor.

1. The Outer/Lip Side of One of Your Lower Central incisors

This one shouldn't be too hard to find...
 

2. The Tongue Side of One of Your Upper Central Incisors

Lingual of Upper IncisorsLingual of Upper Incisors with Arrow
 

3. The Cheek Side of Your Upper Right First Molar

Buccal of Upper Right MolarBuccal of Upper Right Molar with Arrow
 

4. The Tongue Side of Your Upper Left First Molar

Lingual of Upper Left MolarLingual of Upper Left Molar with Arrow
 

5. The Cheek Side of Your Lower Left First Molar

Buccal of Lower Left MolarBuccal of Lower Left Molar with Arrow
 

6. The Tongue Side of Your Lower Right First Molar

Lingual of Lower Right MolarLingual of Lower Right Molar with Arrow

I tried taking photos of the inside of my mouth, but that wasn’t really working. Fortunately, my wife is awesome so I took some pictures of her showing how use the handheld mouth mirror to check each tooth.

Once you are done checking each area, add up all 6 of your scores and consult the chart below to see how you are doing with plaque control.

Total Score Plaque Control
0-3 Excellent
4-7 Good
8-11 Fair
12-18 Poor

 

Combining a plaque score with our test for gum health once a week will provide you with a great barometer of your oral hygiene and draw attention to areas you might be missing.

Make sure to consult our posts on how to brush with a manual toothbrush and electric toothbrush to get the basics down.

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