Are Plaque and Tartar the Same Thing?

Most people hear dentists talk about plaque ad tartar. Many people use the two words interchangeably. There are some important differences between plaque and plaque

Plaque is the transparent to translucent sticky film that covers your teeth during the day. It is made up of particles of food, sugars from foods and beverages, any bacteria in your saliva and the saliva itself. Plaque begins to form on the surface of your teeth within hours after your last brushed your teeth. This points to the importance of brushing twice each day to interrupt the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth. It is the plaque that is forming that makes you teeth feel rough, sticky and dirty.

Tartar is a hard substance that forms on your teeth from plaque when it is not removed regularly. One important difference between plaque and tartar (calculus) is that tartar cannot be removed from the surface of your teeth simply by brushing. Once tartar is formed, you will need to see your dentist or dental hygienist to remove it professionally.

When tartar is not removed from tooth surfaces regularly, it tends to become thicker and more difficult to remove from your teeth. The amount of tooth surface covered by tartar increases, and it continues to harden. When teeth are covered with tartar both brushing and flossing become increasingly ineffective.

Instead of thinking about how to remove tartar after it forms, it is more helpful to think about how to prevent plaque and tartar from forming. You do this by brushing thoroughly for at least two minutes twice every day, flossing at least once every day, and seeing your dentist and/or hygienist regularly (usually twice each year). Eating foods that naturally flight plaque and tartar formation is another step you can take. These foods include cheese, apples, celery, and carrots.

If you have crooked or overlapping teeth, you may find it difficult to brush and floss as thoroughly as others. In this case, some people turn to orthodontic treatment to straighten and space the teeth better.

The secret to strong teeth and overall oral health is, again, in your hands. Brush thoroughly twice daily and floss at least once daily. See your dentist as recommended (twice to four times per year). Preventing harm to your teeth from plaque and tartar is far more important than learning how it can be treated after it forms.