Plaque and Tartar: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to plaque and tartar, you’ve likely heard the two terms together. However, contrary to popular belief, plaque and tartar are not the same thing. In fact, understanding their key differences can significantly impact the way you care for your teeth.

What Is Plaque?

Dental plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth and under your gums. It is left behind from the foods and drinks we consume throughout the day. Unfortunately, plaque contains millions of bacteria inside. When you eat carbohydrates or sugar, you’re essentially feeding these bacteria and triggering them to produce acids. Not only can the harmful bacteria lead to gum disease, but these oral acids can also erode your tooth enamel and cause cavities.

The good news, and a key distinction between plaque and tartar, is that you can remove plaque by proper brushing and flossing. Brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing daily is often enough to eliminate plaque before it threatens your oral health.

What is Tartar?

If you aren’t diligent to remove plaque in a timely manner, it will eventually harden into a substance called tartar (or calculus). Tartar is essentially calcified plaque. It only takes about 48 hours for unremoved plaque to harden into tartar. Here’s the kicker – once plaque has hardened into tartar, only a professional cleaning from your dentist can remove it. This can help patients understand just how crucial these routine dental visits are towards their oral health.

Tartar attaches to the enamel of your teeth as well as adheres to areas below the gum line. It can lead to major issues within your oral health if it is not removed by your dentist, including decay, gum disease and more.

Now that you understand the harm of tartar and plaque build-up, how do you prevent it? At TruDent Clinics, we encourage the following tips for optimal oral health:

  • Brush and floss daily
  • See your dentist twice a year
  • Drink water and chew sugarless gum throughout the day
  • Adjust your lifestyle habits to lessen plaque buildup

Are you afraid that you may have hardened plaque or tartar across your pearly whites right now? Schedule your professional dental cleaning at TruDent Clinics and we’ll take care of it! You’ll find that your smile will also be fresher and brighter after your visit.


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