Plaque vs. Tartar: Buildup, Removal, and Dental Hygiene Tips

by | Oct 17, 2022

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between plaque vs. tartar? Most toothpaste and mouthwashes make claims to “remove plaque build-up” or “control tartar,” but what do those claims actually mean? Both are harmful to your teeth, but there are distinct differences between the two when it comes to prevention, build-up, and removal.

The Differences Between Tartar Versus Plaque

Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that coats your teeth. Everyone has plaque on their teeth because it’s constantly reforming. Have you ever run your tongue across your teeth and noticed they feel dirty? Is that bumpy film even worse after drinking a sugary soda or eating sticky candies? That’s plaque, which is made up of bacteria that thrive on sugars and starches. Yes, unfortunately, plaque thrives on all the fun foods, like soda, ca Tandy, bread, chips … you get the idea.

When “fed,” these bacteria produce enamel-destroying acids that can lead to cavities, gingivitis, tooth loss, and gum disease. Essentially, you feed the bacteria in your mouth every time you eat and the waste that they produce can damage your teeth. The more sugar and starch in your food and liquids, the more that oral bacteria will thrive.

Tartar is what happens when you do not consistently remove plaque from your teeth or gum line. Tartar is plaque all grown up and it is extremely destructive. Like plaque, tartar coats your teeth. However, instead of a film, you have a calcified coating that sticks to your teeth like barnacles on a boat. Tartar build-up in teeth can spread across the entire tooth, including below the gumline. It damages your gums by constantly irritating them and exposing them to bacteria. When your dental hygienist or dentist checks your gums and charts a series of numbers, they are noting how far or close your gums are to the tooth. A tight fit is ideal, but tarter can cause chaos in your gums.

How Is Plaque Removed from Teeth?

Ideally, you should never get to the point of severe tartar build-up if you remove plaque from your teeth each day. Removal is easily done simply by brushing your teeth two times each day with fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride doesn’t just strengthen your teeth to help them stay healthy. It also neutralizes some of the acids that bacteria release onto your teeth. It is also important to floss daily to remove plaque below your gum line. In fact, that can be one of the most critical areas to maintain, as the gums are the gateway to infection and tooth loss if plaque progresses to tartar.

Scraping or using metal utensils is unnecessary. With proper brushing, plaque should not build up enough to require that level of treatment. If it does, your plaque has graduated to tartar.

Signs your plaque has evolved into tartar:

  • Yellow or brown build-up on your teeth
  • Concentration of discoloration around the base and between teeth
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • A rough or dirty feeling that remains on the teeth even after brushing and flossing
  • Your dentist or hygienist note tartar buildup in teeth

Dental Tartar Removal Process

Tartar removal requires the help of your dentist. You’ll note that most toothpastes do not market themselves as “tartar removers” and instead use the phrase “tartar control.” That’s because consistent brushing can only prevent plaque build-up or control existing tartar once it has formed. Tartar sticks to your teeth like a second enamel. It requires experience and proper tools in order for it to be removed without damaging your teeth.

How Does My Hygienist Remove Tartar from My Teeth?

If you have a build-up of your teeth, your hygienist will use a tool called a scalar to remove the calculus from your teeth. The scaler can get below the gumline to remove plaque, too. The process is not painful, but some patients do express a dislike for the process. Don’t let that deter you! Brief discomfort is certainly better than losing your teeth or getting a severe gum infection. And if you can use your cleaning to get to a healthy mouth baseline, you can start fresh and take more care to prevent plaque build-up in the sixth months leading up to your next appointment. You’ll likely find a huge reduction in the amount of scraping.

After your teeth have been scaled, your hygienist will polish your teeth with a gritty toothpaste that ensures no remnants of plaque or tartar are left behind. Your teeth will then be flossed as a finishing touch. At Ashland Dental, we also recommend our patients receive fluoride treatment. As noted earlier, fluoride strengthens teeth and weakens harmful acids produced by bacteria.

Ashland Dental Can Help You Treat Plaque and Tartar

If you’ve noticed plaque or tartar build-up on your teeth, Ashland Dental can help you get back on track. There’s no need to hide or feel embarrassed — we want to help you have a healthier mouth. Give us a call today to schedule a cleaning and check-up. We’ll give your mouth a fresh start!