What Is the Difference Between Plaque and Tartar?

It is a common misconception that plaque and tartar are the same thing. There is actually a considerable difference between these two substances that build up on the teeth. Plaque is a colorless, sticky film of bacteria. Since it is constantly forming on your teeth, it must be removed daily by brushing and flossing. In addition, routine cleanings by your dentist are necessary to remove plaque that brushing and flossing miss.

Plaque will harden into tartar if it is not properly removed. Tartar is much more difficult to remove than plaque. If plaque has developed on your teeth, it will continue to accumulate until it is professionally removed by a dental hygienist or dentist. To better understand the difference between plaque and tartar, the following lists describe the characteristics of both substances:


. Soft, sticky substance

. Consists of bacteria, byproducts of bacteria, and food debris

. Easily removed by brushing, flossing, and rinsing

. Can cause cavities and other dental problems when the acids produced by plaque attack the gums and teeth


. Hard, non-sticky deposit

. Porous creating a rough surface on the teeth (makes it easier for bacteria to attach to the teeth)

. Consists of mineral deposits from saliva

. Can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist

. Excess bacteria buildup from tartar can lead to periodontal disease

Since plaque can lead to tartar, you can prevent the development of both by properly caring for your teeth and gums. A few steps towards improved teeth and gum health that you can take include:

. Brushing your teeth every day (at least twice a day and after meals)

. Flossing daily to remove plaque from areas that your toothbrush can't reach (under your gumline and between your teeth)

. Limiting the amount of starchy or sugary foods that you consume (sugar and starch feed bacteria, causing larger amounts of plaque)

. Scheduling regular visits with your dentist for dental exams and professional cleanings

. Can cause cavities and other dental problems when the acids produced by plaque attack the gums and teeth

Tartar on the enamel of your teeth can lead to cavities and other oral health problems. The enamel on your teeth is the hard outer layer that protects your teeth from decay. Once your teeth are formed and erupt above the gumline, the cells that produce enamel die off. This means that your enamel will not grow back once it decays. The best way to ensure optimum oral health is to take preventative measures that include consistent daily care and regularly scheduled visits to your dentist.

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