Plaque and Tartar: Knowing the Difference

July 30, 2018

We all know plaque and tartar are both undesirable things to have on your teeth, but if you’re like many of our patients, you might be confused about what differentiates the two from one another.

Both are products of excess bacteria on your teeth, and luckily, both are treatable! However, knowing the differences can help you better understand why daily dental hygiene and biannual checkups are so crucial to prevent plaque and tartar buildup.

What is Plaque?

That unsavory sticky, soft film you may feel on your teeth throughout the day is plaque. The more you eat and drink, the more it coats your pearly whites, leaving a less than fresh sensation. Unfortunately, bacteria love making this film their home.

When you eat, the leftover particles that stick to your teeth become food for the bacteria. Some foods are worse offenders than others—high carb and sugary meals especially—though the bacteria aren’t picky. As they feed on your meal, the bacteria give off acids that erode your teeth’s enamel over time. This can lead to gum disease and cavities if left unchecked.

The best way to prevent plaque buildup is to keep up with your daily dental hygiene routine—brushing twice and flossing once a day. You can also chew sugar-free gum after meals and stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water to keep bacteria at bay, though that doesn’t mean you can skip brushing and flossing!

What is Tartar?

Tartar is what forms when plaque hardens on your teeth due to being left there too long. The longer plaque stays there, the more time is has to solidify into a substance that is much more difficult to remove. Brushing and flossing at home won’t cut it—you will need to visit your dentist to get a full cleaning. This is one of the many reasons why seeing your dentist every 6 months is so important!

Tartar buildup that is left unchecked can lead to noticeable problems including:

  • Tooth discoloration
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Gum disease

Making it a habit to brush and floss everyday can stop too much tartar from forming, while regular checkups can remove any lingering buildup.

Why Have a Checkup Every 6 Months?

As much as we love seeing our patients, we wouldn’t recommend biannual dental visits if there weren’t other good reasons!

Your 6-month checkup is the time to make sure your oral hygiene routine is working and to check up on the overall health of your mouth. Your dentist will monitor your teeth and gums for tartar buildup, and your hygienist will give you a professional cleaning to get rid of it—though the cleaning will be a lot less unpleasant if you do most of the work for us! Remember, the longer tartar sits on your teeth, the more damaging it gets. All the more reason to never skip a cleaning again.