Key Differences Between Plaque and Tartar - Smile Dental Center

man in dental chairWhen tartar and plaque accumulate on your teeth, you’re at greater risk for cavities, gingivitis, bleeding gums and periodontitis.

While tartar and plaque are often grouped together, they are not the same substance. Plaque is a soft film that can be yellow or clear. It harbors bacteria but can be brushed away each day. Yet if you let plaque sit on your teeth, it hardens into dark yellow or brown tartar, which can only be removed with a professional dental cleaning.

As you work to maintain your teeth’s appearance and structure through at-home care and regular dental cleanings, here’s what you should know about plaque and tartar.

What Is Plaque?

Everyone experiences plaque, which forms once saliva comes in contact with food. This bacteria-containing film accumulates on the teeth and through the mouth, including your gums and tongue.

Your mouth is home to about 700 species of microorganisms. After you eat or drink, the bacteria start to produce acids. In turn, plaque has potential to attack the enamel on your teeth, resulting in more serious dental issues.

If you let the plaque sit, it becomes calculus or tartar, a hardened buildup that irritates your gums and can eventually contribute to gum disease.

To keep plaque under control, it’s recommended you:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice per day, or right after you have something sweet.
  • Floss at least once per day.
  • Consume sugar-based foods and drinks in moderation.
  • Get your teeth professionally cleaned every six months.

What Is Tartar?

If you’re negligent with oral care, the plaque on your teeth hardens by holding onto the calcium in your saliva and becomes tartar, which you can’t brush or floss away on your own. Instead, tartar attaches to the exterior of your teeth, below the gumline and can impact the effectiveness of at-home brushing.

Tartar below the gumline can lead to the development of gingivitis and eventually periodontal disease. Early signs include red, swollen and bleeding gums. Eventually, your gums may form pockets and detach from your teeth. The chances of losing a tooth increase as the bacteria progresses further below the gumline.

Typically, your dentist can remove tartar with a standard cleaning procedure. However, especially if gum pockets have already started to form, scaling and root planing may become necessary to address the presence of gum disease and halt its progression.

You are more likely to develop tartar if you don’t regularly brush, visit the dentist or if teeth have shifted in your mouth. Additionally, considering how plaque and tartar contribute to gum disease, you have a stronger chance of experiencing this condition if you:

  • Smoke
  • Eat a high-sugar diet
  • Experience regular stress
  • Don’t seek regular dental care
  • Wear a dental appliance, like braces or a retainer

To learn more about effectively taking care of your teeth to avoid plaque and tartar, contact our Shelton office today.