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Dental Health

What’s the Difference Between Plaque and Tartar?

The two most common oral care problems people have or hear about are plaque and tartar. You might hear about both while a dental hygienist cleans your teeth. It’s easy to assume the two are the same thing, but they are actually different and require different treatment.

The Difference Between Plaque and Tartar

Plaque is a sticky, colorless, soft substance that builds up around the gum line. Plaque hurts your teeth and gums because it can cause cavities, periodontal disease, and gingivitis. Plaque causes cavities because of the acid contained within it. Plaque also irritates the gums; if your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this could be because of plaque. If you don’t take care of this, the gums will pull away from your teeth, which may cause you to lose a tooth. Plaque can eventually harden into tartar if it isn’t removed each day.

Tartar is a yellow or yellowish-brown color. It’s hard, porous and crusty. Tartar be very unsightly; it forms along the gum line. Tartar also causes cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. If tartar isn’t removed, it will continue to grow and calcify.

What causes them?

Plaque is a film of bacteria made up of food particles and saliva, and it collects on your teeth every day. Plaque attacks your enamel after you eat, and if it does this long enough without being cleaned, it can break through the enamel, giving the cavity a place to take hold. Tartar is made up of hardened plaque that hasn’t been brushed away. It is hard because it comes from the mineral deposits in saliva. Tartar is harmful because it’s hard from the bacteria build-up inside the tartar on your teeth.

Removing Tartar and Plaque

Plaque can most easily be removed with daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing. 

Plaque forms within eight hours, so make sure you brush before bed, too. Tartar is not as easily removed and must be treated by your team at the Dental Care Center. Tartar is removed by scaling it, using instruments that are used to remove tartar from teeth. If the tartar has formed below the gum line, then you may have to get surgery to remove it. The best way to prevent all of this is through vigilant brushing and flossing. Tartar-control toothpaste has also been shown to help.

If you remember to brush and floss at least twice daily, you prevent plaque and tartar from forming on your teeth. If you see any sign of trouble or have any questions please make an appointment or contact us today.