Dental Plaque and Tartar


Patients frequently ask the question at their hygiene appointment about the difference between plaque and tartar. We all have dental plaque and some tartar build-up. Some people may have more tartar build up faster than others. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and along the gum line after eating foods. As plaque forms and is not removed by proper brushing and flossing, it can harden and calcify into tartar. Plaque on the tooth surface gives a fuzzy and sticky feeling. Tartar is described as rough on the tooth surface. Both dental plaque and tartar are harmful to the teeth and periodontal health and may lead to dental decay and periodontal disease.
Dental Plaque
  • a sticky, colorless or pale yellow film of bacteria that is formed on and between the teeth and along the gum line after eating foods 
  • begins forming on the teeth about 4-12 hours after brushing
  • bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel causing dental decay
  • bacteria in plaque on the gum line cause early stage of gum disease, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) 
  • cause bad breath 
  • teeth look dingy and yellow
  • Causes of plaque: plaque develops when foods containing sugars and starches are left on the teeth after eating. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods and produce acids that attack the tooth surface and below or at the gum line. As a result, plaque may cause dental decay, periodontal disease or possible tooth loss
Tartar (dental calculus)
  • hardened or calcified plaque (deposit or build-up) that attaches to the enamel on the teeth
  • hardened or calcified plaque (deposit or build-up) that attaches above or below the gum line
  • yellow or brown deposit or build up between teeth, above or below the gum line
  • tartar is rough and attaches at or below the gum line and can cause receding gums, periodontal disease, tooth loss, and dental decay
  • Causes of tartar: plaque is not removed regularly, lack of tooth brushing, lack of flossing between teeth, poor dental hygiene and lack of dental checkups and dental cleanings
  • brush thoroughly at least twice a day for 2 minutes to remove plaque from all surfaces of the teeth
  • floss daily to remove plaque from between the teeth and under the gum line
  • limit sugary or starch foods, especially sticky snacks
  • schedule at least 2 regular dental visits for professional cleanings and checkups each year
  • proper brushing and flossing are necessary to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Once tartar has formed, only the dentist or dental hygienist can remove it professionally
  • the procedure for removing tartar is called scaling and root planing
  • ultrasonic and hand scalers are used to remove tartar and plaque from the teeth, above and below the gum line
Dr. Anna Lee is a general & cosmetic dentist in Glendora, CA. She is experienced in all phases of dentistry. She treats patients of all ages. Please call our office at 626-335-5114 to schedule a dental cleaning and checkup. Visit us at

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