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Plaque vs Tartar: What Is the Difference?

Just about everyone that has ever watched a TV advert for toothpaste will know what dental plaque is, but not many will actually know the difference between plaque and tartar.

Many people believe that when dentists talk about plaque they are also talking about tartar because they think both are the same thing. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Dental plaque

If you run the tip of your tongue around your teeth you will probably be able to feel a build-up of soft and sticky film that coats the teeth. This is plaque and it quickly builds up on the surface of your teeth and under your gums over the course of the day.

Plaque is teeming with oral bacteria and every time you eat or drink something that contains sugar or carbohydrates, your bacteria will be feasting too!

As the bacteria in your mouth feed, it produces acids that act to eat away at your tooth enamel causing it to become thin, weak and prone to damage, decay and cavities.

This is why the removal of plaque from your teeth through regular brushing, flossing and the use of mouthwash is so important. If you can brush twice per day and floss once per day you will be doing a lot to help remove plaque build-up on the surface of your teeth and in the spaces between your teeth.

Tartar build up

So, now that you know what plaque is, we need to understand what tartar is and how it affects your teeth and oral health.

Tartar is a hardened build-up of plaque material that has not been removed. Quite often you can get tartar build-up in places that are difficult or impossible for your toothbrush to reach. This is most common behind the back teeth, along the gum line and between the teeth.

Minerals from saliva aid the hardening of plaque and now it becomes far more difficult to remove from the surface of your teeth. The rough and hardened surface provides the ideal surface for further plaque formation.

You may find it extremely difficult if not impossible to remove tartar build up by yourself at home, so you will need to have it removed by either your dental hygienist or periodontist. This is why having a regular check-up with your dentist is so important.

See your dentist at least every six months

To keep your plaque and tartar build up in check you should make a point of visiting your dentist once every six months for an examination. Your hygienist or dentist will be able to give your teeth a professional clean and polish that will effectively remove tartar build up, especially from hard to reach areas that are at more risk of tartar build up.

Preventing gum disease

If left untreated your tartar build up can affect you in negative ways. Firstly, plaque build-up can increase stain build up on the surface of your teeth. Neglected plaque can also cause tooth cavities to develop as well as the thinning of your tooth enamel.

The tartar build-up is especially worrying because it can cause your gums to recede leading to gum disease.  You may need multiple hygiene visits to remove the plaque and tartar build-up, but in some cases where gum disease has set in, they may need to perform a root planing or debridement treatment.

Root planing is a deep clean under your gum surface that clears away bacterial build up from the roots of your teeth. This can be an uncomfortable treatment to have so your dentist will most likely use an anaesthetic to numb the area being treated.

Your dentist may also recommend using a type of mouthwash to help control the build-up of plaque. They will be able to advise you on a specific daily oral hygiene routine that includes brushing with a tartar-control toothpaste, interdental cleaning and daily mouthwash.

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