Dental plaque and tartar are both a fact of life. You hear about it every time you watch a toothpaste commercial, read an article, or visit the dentist. You know that your regular brushing and flossing routine keeps it in check, but have you ever wondered what they really are? And what is the difference between the two?
It Starts with the Plaque
Dental plaque is essentially a soft, sticky film that forms on the surface of your teeth. Plaque builds up on your teeth when saliva mixes with foods and beverages you consume throughout the day. Your saliva combines with the food you eat and drink, forming bacteria in your mouth that collect along your gum line. The sticky yellow substance known as plaque contains millions of harmful bacteria to your teeth and gums. Bacteria feed on the food and drink and then produce acid that attacks your tooth enamel. It can also work its way underneath the gums and attack the tooth root, affecting the bones that support your teeth. Plaque tends to form on your teeth anywhere from 4 – 12 hours after you brush your teeth. If you do not remove plaque on a regular basis, it causes tartar to build up and can lead to cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
Dental Plaque Turns to Tartar
When plaque hangs around too long, it hardens and discolors, turning into a calcified deposit called tartar. Tartar, also known as dental calculus, is a calcification that is porous and rough to the touch. Tartar buildup is usually found under the gum line and along the top of your teeth, as those are the places hardest to reach when brushing and flossing. Once calculus affixes itself to your teeth, it can only be removed by a dental professional. Plus, all that tartar makes brushing much less effective at removing plaque and food debris. All of this leaves your mouth open to potentially serious oral health issues.
Can You Prevent Plaque and Tartar Buildup?
The key to clean teeth is actually to remove plaque to prevent tartar. Plaque formation naturally happens as you go about your day. The good news is that you can get rid of plaque by brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing regularly. Plaque will harden into tartar within 48 hours, so if you brush and floss according to the guidelines set forth by the American Dental Association, you can prevent too much tartar buildup. However, it’s almost impossible to eliminate the formation of calculus on teeth. This is why visiting a dental professional for twice-yearly cleanings is so important.
How Do You Remove Plaque and Tartar?
Because plaque is a soft, sticky substance, it is mostly removed by your daily regimen of brushing and flossing. Tartar is a totally different story. Don’t be fooled by tartar control toothpaste, which has added chemicals and charcoal to supposedly help remove tartar. Once tartar sets up shop on your teeth and under your gum line, it must be removed by a dental hygienist or dentist every six months. During a dental cleaning, your hygienist uses a device called a scaler – a metal tool with a hook at one end. Using the scaler, a hygienist can find the edge of a piece of tartar above the gum line and pry it off the surface of the tooth. They will continue to scrape the tooth until all calculus is completely removed. Scaling your teeth and removing calculus buildup is the number one goal of professional dental cleaning because tartar is also filled with bacteria. The bacteria in plaque and tartar are the number one cause of gum disease.
In its early stages, gum disease is known as gingivitis. If you notice your gums are especially red, swollen, or prone to bleeding, you likely have early gum disease. If gum disease at this stage is left untreated, it will progress into full-blown periodontitis. Periodontitis will cause your gums to pull away from your teeth, creating spaces or pockets where even more bacteria can form. At this point, you run the risk of your teeth becoming loose or even falling out altogether. Considering gum disease is almost entirely preventable, it’s best to take good care of your oral health from an early age.
How to Spot Plaque Buildup
It’s difficult to spot plaque on your teeth. It’s usually colorless or very pale yellow in color, making it hard to see against the natural off-white color of your teeth. You are more likely to feel plaque than see it. If you’ve ever noticed that your teeth feel a little “fuzzy,” that’s what plaque buildup feels like. Luckily, plaque removal is easy. Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush, floss at least once a day, and follow up with an antibacterial mouthwash. Mouthwash will kill bacteria in areas of your mouth that might get missed when brushing or flossing. Following this oral health routine daily will leave your mouth feeling fresh and clean.
Plaque and Tartar are Not Your Friends
Taking your dental hygiene seriously is the first step to improving not just your oral health but your overall well being. The bacteria in plaque has been shown to lead to other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. It can’t be stressed enough. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and visit your dental office at least twice a year. Changing your toothbrush out every three months will keep it in good shape to remove plaque before it can harden into tartar. Your dentist will then get rid of any tartar that forms despite your good oral care habits. Keep plaque under control, and you pave the way to good oral health throughout your lifetime. Contact us now to schedule an appointment!