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Plaque Vs. Tartar – What’s The Difference?

Excerpt: Plaque and tartar are similar, but they’re not the same thing. One can be prevented at home, and the other needs a dental professional to remove it from your teeth.

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Plaque and tartar are similar, but they’re not the same thing. One can be prevented at home, and the other needs a dental professional to remove it from your teeth. This can be done easily, but if it’s neglected over a long enough timeline it can become a serious issue!  In this blog, we’ll cover the difference between the two and also give you the solutions to prevent both!

Plaque – What Is It?

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that will develop on your teeth. Bacteria in plaque produce acids after you eat or drink. Your gums and teeth can be negatively impacted by these acids as they will cause your enamel to erode away over time.

How common is plaque?

Plaque is incredibly common, basically, everyone with teeth will have a plaque to some degree, if you run your tongue over your teeth and they feel fuzzy or sticky, that’s plaque.

Who’s most at risk for plaque?

Here are some indicators that you may be more at risk for plaque:

  • You consume a lot of sugary, starchy foods or drinks.
  • You have a dry mouth due to medications or other afflictions
  • You smoke (this is really bad for your teeth)
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What Causes Plaque?

Plaque forms as a result of foods breaking down in your mouth, bacteria in your mouth will release acid to break down the carbohydrates in your food and drinks. Not brushing your teeth for an extended period of time can cause this process to form a colorless sticky film called plaque.

What Are The Symptoms Of Plaque?

  • A fuzzy feeling on your teeth.
  • Chronic bad breath (halitosis)
  • Red, swollen, tender gums that bleed after brushing.

Why Is Plaque So Bad?

If you don’t brush, floss, and hopefully use mouthwash daily, then plaque can become tartar, which can only be removed by a dentist.

How can I prevent plaque?

Proper dental health is the best method of prevention:
  • Floss 2-3 times a day: Using floss or a water pick can get rid of food or plaque stuck between your teeth.
  • Brush 2-3 times a day: Brush with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Do this at least twice a day, or after every meal.
  • Chew sugarless gum: Chewing sugarless gum after a meal can help remove food particles, and will keep your breath fresh.
  • Choose healthier foods: Mitigating your intake of starch, or starchy; foods or drinks, can greatly help with plaque buildup. 
  • See your dentist: Your dentist can do a better job at cleaning your teeth from plaque build-up, make sure you go every 6 months at least.
  • Use mouthwash: Mouthwash can help clean your mouth of acids and prevent plaque buildup.
bamboo toothbrushes in cup

When Should I Be Concerned About Plaque Buildup?

If you’re experiencing any of these please contact your dentist:
  • Chronic bad breath.
  • Facial swelling.
  • Loose tooth.
  • Pain or difficulty chewing.
  • Redness around or inside your mouth.
  • Swollen bleeding gums.
  • Toothache or general oral pain
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold drinks.

What Is Tartar (Calculus)?

If plaque is not cleaned off your teeth in a timely manner it can harden into tartar, tartar is also referred to as calculus. 

How common is tartar?

Tartar is not as common as plaque, but it is still a prevalent issue among dental patients.

What are the symptoms of tartar? 

Even though plaque is colorless, once hardened into tartar it will take n the appearance of yellow/brownish staining among the gumline of your teeth. This can be a general health issue, as well as a cosmetic issue.

How can I prevent tartar?

Since tartar is just mineralized plaque, the best way to prevent tartar build up is to prevent plaque build up. If you follow all the steps we listed previously then you should be well on your way to not having any issues with tartar. Remember though, we are only human after all, even if you think your routine is perfect, you may have missed areas on your teeth. If you do notice a tartar buildup, just see your dentist.

How can I remove tartar?

It’s not advisable to remove tartar your self, you should make an appointment at your dental clinic and they can remove the tartar through a process called scaling. This process uses pointy metal tools that only a trained professional should use.
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