Plaque and Tartar: What’s the Difference?

July 17, 2018

woman smiling in dental chairYou probably know both plaque and tartar are things you don’t want on your teeth, but do you know what the differences between the two are? If not, you’re not alone. Many of our patients are unsure which they have and how to manage them.

Both are caused by a buildup of bacteria on the teeth and can be kept at bay with daily dental hygiene and regular checkups every 6 months. However, it’s important to understand the differences so you can know what to look out for.

What is Plaque?

toothbrush and floss

Have you ever noticed a sticky, soft film coating your teeth throughout the day? That’s plaque. Besides leaving our mouths feeling less than clean, it’s also an inviting space for millions of bacteria to make their home in.

The food you eat isn’t just feeding you—it’s also feeding the bacteria and helping them multiply. High carb or sugary meals are especially to blame, but all foods eventually have the same effect. The bacteria will feed on the leftovers and give off acids that break down your teeth’s enamel, which over time, can cause gum disease and cavities.

Luckily, brushing twice a day and flossing daily can help get rid of plaque and bacteria, preventing build up. Other ways to cut down on plaque include drinking lots of water throughout the day and chewing sugar-free gum after meals, though these should never replace daily brushing and flossing!

What is Tartar?

Plaque’s hardened cousin, tartar is what forms when plaque is left on the teeth for too long. And, unlike plaque, it takes more than at-home brushing and flossing to remove it. Tartar buildup requires a dental professional to remove, making biannual checkups absolutely necessary!

Unmanaged tartar buildup can lead to a number of undesirable consequences including:

  • Tooth discoloration
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Gum disease

Daily brushing and flossing can prevent too much build up, while regular dentist visits can get rid of any excess tartar your hygiene habits may have missed. Though the better your daily hygiene is, the less painful your checkups will be.

Dental Checkups Twice a Year

woman smiling in dental chairWe don’t push for you to come see us every 6 months just because we love seeing our patients—there are other reasons too!

Every 6-month checkup, your dentist will inspect your teeth and gums for tartar buildup and overall dental health while your hygienist will give you a professional cleaning to remove any tartar and make your mouth feel refreshed and squeaky clean. The longer you wait to see us, the longer tartar has to sit around on your teeth and damage them. So make it a point to schedule your appointments and never miss a cleaning again!