Tartar versus Plaque

You are probably very familiar with the dental terms plaque and tartar. Other than the fact that you know you need to remove plaque and tartar from you teeth, how much do you really know about them? These terms are almost always mentioned in conjunction with each other, as they are closely related. However, while you can remove plaque through your own brushing habits, only a dentist can remove tartar build up. Understanding exactly what causes plaque and tartar and why we don’t want them hanging out on our teeth can help you fight for a healthier smile.

Tartar, or calculus, is actually a form of hardened dental plaque. If you have allowed plaque to build up, the accumulation of these minerals creates a rough surface that is very difficult to remove. Tartar provides the perfect medium for further plaque to form, which threatens the health of your gums and can lead to gum disease. In addition, a build up of tartar on your teeth makes it harder to clean your teeth, putting you at risk for tooth decay, or cavities.

The best way to control tartar and keep your mouth healthy is to prevent plaque from forming in the first place. Dental plaque is a biofilm, usually a pale yellow, which develops naturally on the teeth. It forms from colonizing bacteria trying to attach themselves to the tooth’s smooth surface. At first, plaque is soft enough to come off by simply using your fingernail. However, within 48 hours plaque starts to harden. In about 10 days, plaque becomes tartar!

Brushing for two minutes a day, twice a day as well as daily flossing can prevent plaque (and thus tartar) formation. Some studies have found that electronic toothbrushes may be more effective in removing tartar. Also, make sure you choose a fluoride toothpaste that is designed to control tartar. Attend your routine dental cleanings; you may not realize areas that plaque has turned to tartar. Remember only a dentist can remove this hardened substance from your teeth. Keep your healthy smile and win the battle against plaque and tartar!

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