Patients often confuse plaque and tartar and how they are related to each other.
Plaque is a sticky, colorless deposit of bacteria that is constantly forming on teeth. Saliva, food, and fluids combine to produce these deposits that collect on teeth and where teeth and gums meet.
Plaque buildup is the primary factor in periodontal (gum) disease. Fighting plaque is a life-long component of oral care.
Plaque begins forming on teeth 4 to 12 hours after brushing, which is why it is so important to brush at least twice a day and to floss daily.
Plaque which is not removed by regular brushing and flossing can harden into unsightly tartar (also called calculus). This crusty deposit creates a cohesive bond that can only be removed by a dentist. Tartar formation may also make it more difficult for you to remove new plaque and bacteria. The prevention of tartar buildup above the gumline has not been shown to have a therapeutic effect on gum disease.
The photographs below show three degrees of tartar, or calculus, formation:
You can help reduce the formation of calculus by:
- Brushing with an ADA-accepted tartar-control toothpaste.
- Having your teeth cleaned professionally every six months, or more frequently as recommended by your dentist or hygienist.
Individuals vary greatly in their susceptibility to plaque and tartar. For many of us, these deposits build up faster as we age. Fighting tartar is a life-long component of oral care.
Be sure to follow the special home care instructions provided by your dental professional.