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A Villain Showdown: Plaque vs. Tartar

Posted on October 17, 2013 in General oral health


happy woman cleaning teeth with toothbrushPlaque may be scary, but tartar can be terrifying. Though you’ve heard a mouthful about both of them, do you know difference between the two? Here's a little insight into what makes up plaque and tartar, and the simple steps you can take to avoid both.

Plaque is a natural film of bacteria, food particles, and mucus that build up on teeth throughout the day, especially when you eat. As soon as you brush off the plaque, it starts to develop again. That's why it's important to brush well at least twice a day. Leaving plaque bacteria on your teeth can cause gingivitis and bleeding. If plaque sits on teeth for too long, the minerals in your saliva will harden it and turn it into tartar.

Tartar is a rock-like, rough-surfaced substance that forms both above and below the gum line. New plaque can begin sticking to the rough tartar, making it nearly impossible for your toothbrush alone to remove the plaque. A gum disease called periodontitis can develop, which can do some serious damage to your gums and the bone holding your teeth in place. Tartar buildup can lead to your gums receding from your teeth, leaving little pockets where bacteria can collect and cause infection.

Don't start shaking in your boots just yet: These awful effects are easily avoidable. Since tartar comes from a buildup of plaque that takes days to form, it's important to practice good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth thoroughly twice a day and flossing as least once a day. Make sure you clean every tooth surface and brush gums gently as well. If tartar does form, daily brushing alone won't do the trick – you'll have to enlist the help of your hygienist or dentist. Whether you have tartar or not, be sure to schedule regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist to keep your teeth healthy.

Prevention of plaque and tartar doesn’t stop at the bathroom sink. Eating well and staying away from smoking will help keep your mouth healthier. Studies have found that smokers are far more likely to have gum disease. Also, try saving candy for special occasions – too many sweets can promote bad oral health and are known contributors to plaque and tartar buildup. Have fun this Halloween, but don't neglect your oral hygiene!