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The Difference Between Plaque and Tartar

Posted in Dental Care, and General Dentistry

Your Teeth Are Tough

Your teeth are the hardest material in your body, as they are covered with enamel. The average strength of a human bite is 162 pounds per square inch (PSI). It’s obvious that they need to be strong as they are constantly subject to high pressure and wear and tear. Without a good maintenance program, your tough teeth can lose their reputation.

If you allow plaque to build up and harden, tarter can form and devastate your oral health. It can even be a precursor to gum disease. Therefore, it’s good to know the difference between plaque and tarter, how to prevent build up of either, and how they’re removed.  

What is Plaque?

All of us always have dental plaque on our teeth in varying amounts. Even after brushing and flossing it never completely goes away. Some describe it as teeth fur, but its basically saliva, bacteria, and food particles that mix and stick too your teeth. It’s soft whiteish in color and is also a contributor to bad breath.

300 Species of Bacteria

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLA), plaque contains more than 300 species of bacteria, but only a few are harmful. The main contributor to tater build-up and gum disease is Streptococcus mutans. Eating and drinking promotes bacteria and plaque build-up as it gives bacteria something to feed on and grow. Streptococcus and other harmful bacteria produce acids that can wear down enamel.

Remove Plaque Regularly

When plaque isn’t removed regularly by your dental routine of brushing and flossing it can eventually harden and become tarter. Once hardened, it changes in color to a yellowish brown. Tarter is especially hard on your gums and can irritate them, cause infection, and eventually cause periodontal disease.

Win the War Against Plaque

Regularly try to remove plaque before it can morph into tarter. To do this, brush, and floss two times daily, and reduce the number of sugary foods and drinks you consume. Be consistent and visit your dentist at Erbsville Dental every 6-9 months for a deep cleaning and checkup. It’s a good way to confirm you are succeeding in your war against plaque.

What is Tartar?

Tarter develops when plaque is allowed to remain on your teeth for long periods of time. How much is “long periods of time”? According to Crest (Dental Plaque and Tartar: Causes, Prevention, and Removal) tarter can begin to harden in just 24-72 hours. Tarter or calculus also contains minerals extracted from saliva which allows it to bond to teeth surfaces. Tarter can also build to the point where it breaches the gum line of your teeth. This makes it more difficult to clean properly and compounds the problem. If it progresses to this point, a dentist or dental health professional will need to manually remove It.

Tarter can break away partially and leave sharp edges you can feel with your tongue or it can be subtle. Once it’s there it’s not easy to remove yourself. Hygienists and dentists use a sharp tool called a “scaler”. Some scalers are ultrasonic or use high pressure water to remove tarter. It’s usually done during your 6–8-month cleaning / check up and feels great once it’s finished. However, some find the removal part to be uncomfortable, even painful. If you feel that way, why not do everything possible to avoid it?

Prevent Gum Disease

The main reason dentists remove tarter is to prevent periodontal disease. Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease or periodontal disease. Symptoms of gingivitis include swollen gums, bright red coloring, and sometimes gums bleed or are prone to bleed easy.

If left untreated, periodontitis can occur. That is the formation of large gaps between the teeth and gums, and loose teeth. Eventually, tooth loss results. It is estimated that more than 40% of Canadians over 30 years of age have a form of periodontal disease.


After seeing the progression of gum disease on many patients, Dr. Mathews believes prevention is the best solution. However, Erbsville Dental offers many treatment options at different stages of the disease, according to each person’s situation. “When it comes to oral health, Erbsville Dental believes that early prevention and education is critical to maintaining your teeth for a lifetime.

If you have any questions about how to control plaque or tartar buildup, schedule an appointment with Erbsville Dental.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.