Tartar or plaque: what’s the difference?

Tartar or plaque: what’s the difference?

Many patients who visit our clinic often ask us about the difference between plaque and tartar. It’s important to know the difference between the two to better understand why twice-yearly cleanings at the dentist are essential for your oral health.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a whitish, sticky substance that forms on teeth like a film. Plaque, also known as biofilm, is formed naturally by oral bacteria after eating and with the help of saliva. Plaque tends to accumulate around the gum line. If this plaque isn’t properly brushed away, it can mineralize and harden into tartar.

What is tartar?

Tartar is a combination of hardened minerals and saliva, yellow or brown in color. It’s what builds up on teeth when plaque isn’t removed. If plaque remains on teeth for too long, it hardens into tartar, which is much harder to remove. In fact, tartar cannot be removed by regular brushing; it can only be removed by a dental professional. That’s why it’s important to visit the dentist every six months. Tartar doesn’t just cause cavities, it can lead to gum recession, gingivitis and then periodontitis (gum disease).

Plaque and tartar are the main causes of cavities and gum disease in the mouth. It is therefore important to prevent its formation by maintaining good dental hygiene. Brush twice a day, floss daily, reduce your intake of sugary foods and, of course, visit your dentist regularly for a teeth cleaning.

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