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Plaque vs Tartar: Is there a difference between Tartar and Plaque?

When you go to get a check-up at the dentist, they always ask if you’re brushing your teeth. Have you ever wondered why? All sorts of things enter through your mouth and past your teeth – or surround them, depending on how you chew it – and yet most of the time your teeth are just as clear. You can pick out some food particles you find with floss or a toothpick or just by brushing, so why does the dentist have so many hard, metal tools just for cleaning teeth?

The difference is what the dentist cleans might be what you forgot for too long. What you clean at home is plaque. What the dentist cleans with scraping tools and water jets is tartar.

What is Plaque?

Plaque is the initial buildup of bacteria that gathers in the mount and sticks to teeth. There are over 700 species of bacteria that live in the mouth. Some are there for good reason, to defend the teeth and gums against intruders, and others get carried along in food or in the air. These all stick together in a clump thick enough to be seen and mix with your saliva and the residue from your gums to create plaque. It’s the sticky goo that rests on your teeth which a brush can blast away.

What is Tartar?

Tartar, or calculus (not the math kind) is what happens when plaque is around for too long. The bacteria colonies start to eat the enamel of the teeth and other things, and when they have more calcium than they need, they trap it into a sort of protective covering that hardens and adheres to teeth too firm for brushes to clean. This is tartar, it’s the harder substance that can’t be brushed off and needs a precision tool to deal with.

Why Plaque and Tartar buildup are bad

Plaque may have some good bacteria in it, but for the most part it’s risky to leave alone. It builds up because there’s way more bad bacteria than good. And your saliva is what makes it eventually turn into tartar. When this happens, the bacteria won’t be brushed or washed away easily and can continue eating whatever is around it – namely, your teeth and gums. This can increase the risk of gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis and can lead to much more dangerous infections down the line. More plaque means more tartar, which means more risk of health problems.

Tartar buildup removal

Tartar is not invincible, but it’s very hard to remove. It’s dangerous to do it alone because an untrained hand might cause damage to the teeth or gums. It’s best to let a dentist deal with the stubborn stains. Meanwhile, daily routine brushing helps keep plaque under control and will prevent tartar buildup from starting in the future. Don’t skip brushing just because they look clean enough. Get rid of plaque before it builds up and keep your teeth smooth and clean.