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What are Plaque and Tartar?

You likely learned to beware of plaque and tartar in your early school years. These two substances are the sworn enemies of dentists and present serious threats to your teeth, gums, and general oral health. But what exactly are plaque and tartar, and why are they so harmful? Let’s answer these questions.


Plaque is a sticky, difficult-to-see film that accumulates daily on the surfaces of your teeth. Technically, plaque is a biofilm, meaning it’s a mass of bacteria that adheres to a surface. While plaque is about three-quarters water, the remainder is almost all bacteria. There are also small amounts of sugars present in plaque.

The water and sugar make an excellent medium for bacterial growth. For this reason, it is important to avoid sugary and sticky foods to reduce plaque buildup. As these bacteria grow and reproduce, they produce acid. The acid can break down tooth enamel and cause gum inflammation.

Fortunately, you can remove dental plaque with proper care at home. Brushing twice daily and using an interdental cleaner, such as dental floss, will remove the majority of your plaque if you do a thorough job. For extra plaque removal, consider using an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice per day.


The more proper name for tartar is dental calculus. In essence, tartar is plaque that has hardened over time. If you don’t remove plaque daily, it can transform into tartar and become a more serious issue.

Unlike dental plaque, you cannot remove tartar with just brushing flossing, and mouthwash. Calculus means “pebble,” and tartar is a hard, strong substance. Only your professional dental team can get rid of tartar by using specialised dental instruments.

Why does tartar need to be removed? Like plaque, tartar is composed largely of bacteria. Furthermore, tartar accumulates in the spaces between your teeth, under your gums, and between your teeth and gums. As tartar builds up, it provides a foothold for further plaque accumulation. So, it’s a cycle – plaque accumulates, hardens into tartar, and then more plaque forms on the tartar.

This cycle can quickly damage your teeth and gums. As your gums become diseased, your systemic health may suffer. In fact, bacteria from your mouth can even enter your bloodstream and cause severe illness.

The Importance of Consistent Care

As you can see, daily oral care is paramount. If you do a great job of removing plaque daily, it will have little chance to harden into tartar. You also need to be sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year for preventative care. This is the only way to remove stubborn tartar and maintain your oral health.

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