What is the Difference Between Plaque and Tartar? Learn With Portland, OR General & Family Dentist
Updated: Dec 1
You’ve probably heard about dental plaque and tartar – but do you know the difference between the two? Both plaque and tartar increase the risk of cavities and gum disease, and we need to keep our teeth clean of them for good dental health.
However, tartar is a much more concerning oral health issue than plaque, and can only be removed and treated by dental professionals – whereas plaque can be removed simply at home. We’ll break down the difference between plaque and tartar so that you know what to look out for, and how to keep your mouth clean of both!
What is Plaque?
Dental plaque is a clear, sticky film made up of saliva and bacteria, and is constantly forming on our teeth. Plaque forms on and between our teeth, and can even develop under the gum line on teeth’s roots. Bacteria in plaque feeds on the foods and drinks we consume and produces acid, which weakens tooth enamel and irritates the gums. Over time, this acid attack can lead to cavities and gum disease.
The good news is that plaque can be removed easily by brushing and flossing! Because plaque is constantly forming on our teeth, it is all important to clean it away regularly by brushing twice and flossing once every day. When we don’t clean our teeth regularly, plaque builds up unchecked and eventually hardens into a substance called tartar.
What is Tartar?
Tartar (also known as dental calculus) is hard, yellow, calcified deposits on teeth and gums, formed from hardened plaque. Tartar can begin forming in as little as 48 hours, and is so hard that it cannot be removed by brushing or flossing. Tartar must be removed by a dentist or hygienist who has the proper tools and training to remove tartar without damaging the teeth and gums.
The presence of tartar on teeth and along or below the gum line makes it more difficult to keep your teeth clean and prevent cavities and gum disease. Tartar often forms first around the gum line, and can irritate, inflame, and infect gum tissue, resulting in gum disease. Because it is essentially made up of calcified bacteria and minerals, dental tartar is quite odorous and can cause chronic bad breath. Tartar can also cause serious, irreversible damage to other structures of the mouth, such as tooth decay, tooth loss, and jaw bone loss.
Preventing Plaque and Tartar
Though the negative effects of plaque and tartar might sound dire, preventing plaque and tartar is really quite simple! All you have to do is brush twice a day and floss once a day to prevent plaque from building up in the mouth, and prevent it from having the chance to harden into tartar.
Visit your dentist regularly, too – we will catch any issues that you might miss, ensure your teeth and mouth are clean with regular cleanings, and offer tips for improving your oral hygiene if necessary, so that your mouth stays healthy and happy!