What to Know About the Difference Between Tartar and Plaque

You've likely heard about tartar and plaque when it comes to your oral health, but you might not understand the differences is between them. Here is what you need to know about the differences between these two substances that damage your teeth.

1. What Is Plaque? 

Our mouths are filled with bacteria, which live in our saliva. This allows them to get into all the various areas of our mouth, and attach to the tooth around the pocket where the tooth and gums meet. Plaque starts off as a soft and gooey-looking material and can cause the gums to look red or inflamed when it is left in your mouth. Additional risks of plaque buildup on your teeth are getting gingivitis or watching your gums shrink and expose more of your tooth's surface.

When plaque has food, such as sugary substances that you eat, the plaque turns into an acid that can cause tooth decay over time. This leads to tooth decay in the form of cavities, which will need to be fixed by removing the decay and putting a filling where the tooth enamel is missing. This is why it's so important to remove plaque by brushing and flossing regularly.

2. What Is Tartar?

Since removing plaque is a manual process, it is common to miss some tartar when brushing. The saliva in your mouth introduces calcium to the plaque, which hardens it into a substance known as tartar. Once tartar hardens you can't remove tartar with simple brushing and flossing. You'll need to have your teeth cleaned soon after tartar forms so that it can be scraped off, which will reveal that healthy tooth surface beneath it. You can then keep the area clean with regular brushing and flossing. 

Since tartar cannot be easily removed, people with tartar are more likely to have problems with gum disease. That tartar is going to continue to irritate your gums and cause inflammation, with no way to stop it from happening unless you get your teeth professionally cleaned. While the effects of tartar and plaque are very similar, it's the inability to easily remove tartar that makes it so dangerous to your oral health.

Do you have more questions about plaque and tartar? If so, you can reach out to a local family dentist to make an upcoming cleaning appointment. They can then can explain the differences between these two substances.