Plaque and Tartar: What’s the Difference?

Do They Really Matter?

When discussing the subject of preventive maintenance for your mouth, two words rise above most others: plaque and tartar. Both can damage your teeth, even to the point where they end up falling out! But what are these substances? How can we prevent them from causing dental issues?

What is Plaque?

Bacteria manufacture plaque, a sticky, soft film that builds up on our teeth. Since it is colorless, it is difficult to see. When we eat, the bacteria feed on the sugars in our foods and create more plaque – which ends up harboring and protecting more bacteria. The bacteria create acids that eat away at the enamel of your teeth. Over time, the enamel breaks down, resulting in cavities. Plaque buildup along the gumline also leads to gingivitis.

What to Do About Plaque

Brush regularly, twice a day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, preferably one approved by the American Dental Association. Clean between your teeth by flossing daily, especially near the gumline. A plaque-fighting mouthwash helps, but since plaque is a sticky substance, mouthwash alone will not remove it. Use mouthwash along with brushing and flossing. Also, monitor your snacking habits – constant snacking (especially with sugary foods and drinks) keeps the bacteria well-fed, causing more activity.

Will this eliminate all the plaque? No. Plaque is constantly produced in all mouths. Even after a full cleaning, plaque reappears within hours. A daily regimen of brushing, flossing and mouthwash is important simply to keep plaque manageable. Neglecting this step usually leads to the other word: tartar.

What is Tartar?

Unlike the sauce that goes with your fish and chips, tartar is a rough, calcified deposit on your teeth, usually a dull yellow or brown in color. Tartar develops when soft and sticky plaque stays around and mingles with your saliva for too long. Its rough texture significantly irritates the gums, thus linking it with gum disease, bad breath, and discoloration of the teeth. Quite often, if you can see it on your teeth, there is more under the gumline.

What to Do About Tartar

Neither brushing, flossing, mouthwash or any combination of these will get rid of tartar once it is set in place. Trying to pick it off your teeth with your own tools usually leads to bleeding and pain. The best way to get rid of tartar is letting the Placerville Dental Group remove it for you with a thorough cleaning. Once it’s gone, keep a daily routine of brushing, flossing and mouthwash to prevent the plaque from becoming tartar. Also, schedule a checkup every six months to make sure any buildups are removed.

The Placerville Dental Group wants to make sure any buildups of plaque or tartar do not become an issue for your dental health. If you have any questions or concerns about these substances, we can address those as well. Please call us to schedule an appointment.


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