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Plaque vs. Tartar: Differences and Prevention

Dec 22 • 2 minute read

Your teeth are covered by enamel, which makes them hard, durable, and able to handle wear and tear for many years. However, by allowing plaque to build up and harden on your tooth enamel, you increase the risk of developing tartar and associated oral health issues.

Often, tartar can compromise your dental health and increase your likelihood of developing gum disease. So, it’s important to understand the difference between plaque and tartar, their signs and symptoms, and how to prevent both to protect your overall dental health.

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a tender, sticky film that accumulates on your teeth due to bacteria mixing with saliva and food. The American Dental Association (ADA) deduced that plaque contains more than 500 bacteria species, some good and some not good for your oral health.

Harmful bacteria typically produce acids after you drink or eat, especially when you consume sugary foods or beverages. These acids then attack the enamel on your teeth, resulting in more serious issues for your dental and overall health. When left unaddressed, plaque can harden on your teeth and turn into tartar, causing your gums to become swollen and tender – an early stage of gum or periodontal disease.

The common symptoms of plaque include:

  • Chronic bad breath.
  • A fuzzy feeling on the teeth.
  • Tender, swollen, or red gums that may bleed when brushed.

What Is Tartar?

When plaque sits on your teeth longer than it should, it combines with minerals in your saliva and turns into tartar, sometimes called calculus. Tartar forms a hard coating on the exterior of your teeth or settles below your gum line, making it harder to clean your teeth.

Once tartar spreads below your gumline, a dental health professional or dentist will need to remove it promptly to prevent periodontal disease. At its early stage, periodontal disease or gingivitis exhibits symptoms such as swollen, bleeding, or red gums.

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress and become periodontitis, causing your gums to pull away from your teeth. Over time, it may also cause your teeth to loosen and even fall out in more advanced cases.

The common symptoms of tartar include:

  • Swollen gum tissue.
  • A rough feeling on the teeth.
  • Gums that bleed easily.

Treatment and Prevention

You can eliminate plaque from your teeth through daily brushing and flossing. However, tartar needs to be removed through cleanings by a dental professional.

Here are some ways to prevent plaque buildup and consequently prevent tartar:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice each day.
  • Floss every day.
  • Visit a dentist every six months for a routine checkup and cleaning.
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks, and brush your teeth after enjoying sugary treats.

Besides regular oral hygiene and professional cleanings, a dentist may also suggest other treatment methods such as dental sealants and fluoride treatments. Always get regular dental checkups and cleanings every six months to monitor and protect your oral health.

If you’re prone to cavities, you may want to consult with your dentist regarding dental sealants. A sealant is a thin coating applied to your molars to help protect your teeth against cavities for two to four years.

The Bottom Line

Allowing plaque to sit for too long on your teeth can cause tartar to form, destroying your tooth enamel and raising your risks of developing gum disease. Fortunately, by practicing good oral hygiene, you can eliminate plaque buildup and minimize the risk of tartar forming on your teeth and gums. More importantly, always schedule routine dental exams and cleanings with a dental health professional.

The post Plaque vs. Tartar: Differences and Prevention first appeared on Dental Signal.

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Brooke Pancer DMD, MS, FRCDC, DABP Periodontist

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