There’s not a huge difference when it comes to plaque vs. tartar. However, one is more serious than the other.
If you want to prevent plaque from turning into tartar, it’s important to do what you can on your own. But can you remove plaque and tartar from home? The answer is: sometimes— but it’s more difficult to remove tartar than plaque.
This is exactly why you should know the difference.
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Plaque vs. Tartar: What’s the Difference?
Plaque and tartar are remnants of oral plaque that adhere to the tooth surface after eating. Both contain a mixture of living and dead bacteria and food particles such as sugar (or “dental plaque“).
The difference between plaque and tartar is that tartar has become mineralized over time, making it more difficult for you to remove it with regular brushing or flossing at home.
If you don’t remove plaque and tartar, they can cause tooth decay or gum disease. And according to the CDC, 26% of American adults have untreated tooth decay.
What is Plaque?
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth. It is normal, but if it isn’t removed by brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dental hygienist, it can lead to cavities.
In as little as 24-72 hours, it turns into tartar (also known as calculus).
You’ll know you have plaque buildup if you have teeth sweaters, your gums bleed after brushing or flossing, or you have consistent bad breath.
How Much Plaque is Normal?
When know plaque is normal, but should you have plaque on your teeth every day?
Plaque forms constantly, meaning it’s not abnormal to see or feel it during the middle of your day. Plaque forms when you eat or drink anything with carbohydrates (sugar). Bacteria in plaque convert sugar into acid, which causes tooth decay and cavities. The more sugar you eat, the more damaging plaque will be on your teeth!
As long as you’re brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes, temporary plaque buildup won’t cause long-lasting damage.
What is Tartar?
Tartar is a hardened form of plaque. This means that the bacteria found in plaque becomes trapped between your teeth, where it decays into tarter and sticks to your teeth for good. This can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
There are several ways to get rid of it before it becomes serious. You can visit a dentist or dental hygienist who can help you remove tartar with proper tools like ultrasonic scalers, hand instruments, or even lasers!
What Happens When Plaque and Tartar Build Up?
If you don’t remove the plaque and tartar from your teeth, they can lead to several problems.
- Plaque can cause tooth decay and cavities. If the bacteria in plaque stays on your teeth, it will slowly eat away at the enamel on your teeth. This weakens the enamel until holes form, allowing more bacteria into your gums and mouth. This can lead to inflammation or infection of your gums (gingivitis). This causes redness, swelling, and bleeding when you brush too hard— it’s called non-carious cervical lesions or NCLs for short!
- Tartar may also create cracks in tooth enamel. This makes them more susceptible to acid attacks from sugar-laden foods like soda pop or candy bars. All these foods make it easier for cavity-causing bacteria like Streptococcus mutans (aka S mutans) to grow inside those crevices until they erode all of your favorite pearly whites right outta their sockets!
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How To Prevent Plaque and Tartar
It’s never too late to take steps toward preventing plaque and tartar. Here are some ways you can do so:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. Floss once daily, or use a WaterPik if it’s easier for you to use.
- Use a tongue scraper (a tool that looks like a bent tweezer) to remove plaque from your tongue at least once daily and after meals.
- Avoid sugary foods. Unfortunately, yummy snacks encourage bacteria growth in the mouth. Tobacco products and caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, or soda (which erode tooth enamel) also contribute to plaque buildup on teeth.
- Eat healthy foods rich in vitamins A and C. These promote healthy gums when taken internally over time. You should also limit processed food intake as much as possible while still maintaining good nutrition overall so that you don’t get cavities!
It’s true that plaque and tartar aren’t good for your teeth. However, there are some steps you can take to help prevent them from building up:
- Rinse your mouth after every meal.
- Try not to eat too much sugar.
- Visit your dentist for your biannual cleaning!
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How To Remove Plaque and Tartar at Home
If you don’t want to go through all the trouble (or expense) of visiting a professional dentistry office, you can take a few steps to remove plaque and tartar at home.
- First, be sure that your toothbrush has soft bristles: stiff brushes will damage your teeth and gums.
- Second, choose a toothpaste that contains fluoride; this will help fight cavities and the bacteria that cause them in the first place.
- Next, brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes each time—but make sure not to brush too vigorously! Use gentle strokes around your teeth’ edges to avoid damaging or irritating the gum tissue around them.
- Finally, keep track of how often you need to replace your toothbrush so that you always use one with fresh bristles (about every three months).
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When To See a Dentist for a Professional Cleaning
If your teeth are yellow, brown, or black, you have tartar, and you need to see a dentist. No amount of at-home teeth whitening is going to get rid of these stains.