The Difference Between Tartar And Plaque

A big misconception with oral health is confusing tartar and plaque as the same thing. They are actually two different substances, and it helps to understand how they're different and relate to your overall oral health.


You know plaque as the film that sticks to the surface of your teeth. It is a biofilm that is made up of microbes and particles of food. People can often tell that they have dirty teeth because they can feel the plaque on it. You can run your tongue over your teeth and notice that the enamel feels slippery and smooth, which is an indication of a coating of plaque on the surface.

Plaque tends to form when you eat a lot of sweet or starchy foods, which is due to bacteria in your mouth feeding on carbohydrates. Bacteria tend to multiply quickly when you eat the foods that cause plaque to thrive in your mouth. Consuming those simple carbs also causes the microbes to release an acid that can cause a lot of damage to your teeth.

The acid can actually damage the enamel on your teeth due to it being able to dissolve enamel. The process is typically referred to as tooth decay and can cause your teeth to have cavities. If the acid gets underneath your gums, it can even cause your jawbone to be affected.


If plaque is left on your teeth long enough, it will eventually solidify and become tartar. While both substances are considered harmful, tartar is much more dangerous. Bacteria can hide in the porous surfaces of tartar and create other areas where plaque can collect as well. If tartar forms beneath your gums, you'll have issues with inflamed gums or an infection known as gum disease.

If tartar forms between the gaps of your teeth, you'll have a problem getting dental floss in those hard to clean areas. Tartar is also incredibly hard to remove with standard dental floss, and you'll need the help of your dentist to get rid of it. This often involves scraping away the tartar during a cleaning, which can be very uncomfortable to go through.

Do you notice a problem with plaque or tartar on the surface of your teeth? Reach out to a dentist to have an inspection and cleaning performed. They'll help treat the problem before it gets any worse and leave you with clean teeth that will hopefully stay tartar free until your next scheduled cleaning.

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