If you listen to your dentist, or even commercials for toothpaste and mouthwash, then you probably know that plaque and tartar are bad. You might know that these substances build up on teeth and they can cause yellowing, not to mention other oral health issues.
What you might not know is exactly what plaque and tartar are, or how they’re different. You might think they’re basically interchangeable, because they’re so frequently mentioned together. However, there are significant differences you should be aware of so you can properly protect your teeth and prevent plaque and tartar buildup. What separates plaque and tartar?
What is Plaque?
Plaque is a sticky substance that builds up on teeth each day. It is comprised of leftover food particles that linger in your mouth, as well as the bacteria that use that food as a fuel source. Pretty much everyone has plaque because it is forming all the time. With a proper oral health regimen, you can keep plaque to a minimum and prevent it from causing undue damage.
What is Tartar?
Within a matter of several days, plaque buildup can begin to harden, at which point tartar starts to form. Also called calculus, this scaly buildup is much harder to remove than plaque, and it can cause a lot more damage. Cosmetically, it is a whitish or yellowish substance that forms on teeth (while plaque is colorless). It is porous, so it can absorb food stains a lot more easily than your enamel, making your teeth look dirty.
What’s worse is that this resilient substance is difficult to remove with at-home care alone, meaning it could continue to grow even if you brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash daily. As tartar lingers, it can wear down enamel and irritate gums, leading to serious conditions like tooth decay and gum disease.
What Can You Do?
Now that you know what plaque and tartar are, it’s time to learn how to treat or even prevent their formation. Plaque is much easier to control. When you brush, floss, and rinse after every meal, plaque will be swept away with no time to build up or develop into tartar. Even if you can’t clean your teeth after every meal, a daily regimen goes a long way toward preventing plaque accumulation.
If tartar begins to develop, the best option is to see your dentist for cleaning. Dental professionals have the equipment and expertise to remove tartar on teeth, between teeth, and below the gum line. From there you can talk about how to prevent future buildup of plaque and tartar.