Understanding Plaque And Tartar

Many people believe that tartar and dental plaque are associated with poor dental health. However, they may not know the difference between the terms. Here is a bit of information about the two substances to help you better understand what they are and how they are related.

Dental Plaque

Dental plaque is a sticky film that develops on the teeth. It consists of oral microbes, the biofilm that they emit, and food particles. Often, people realize that their teeth are not clean due to the way that a layer of plaque feels to the tongue. Instead of the surface of the tooth enamel feeling smooth and slippery, when covered with plaque, the tooth surface feels thick and heavily coated.

Plaque is produced most rapidly when you consume items that are starchy or sweet because oral bacteria feed on the simple carbohydrates in the foods and drinks that you ingest. As a result, the bacteria multiply within the mouth quickly, inciting the development of additional plaque. 

The ingestion of simple carbohydrates has other consequences as well. When the microbes in the oral cavity feed, they release acid as a metabolic byproduct.

The acid that is released by the bacteria damage the tooth enamel by dissolving the minerals that it contains. This dissolution process is called decay, and it may occur above or beneath the gums. If decay occurs beneath the gingival tissues, it can negatively affect the jawbone and its ability to hold the teeth in place. Brushing twice daily can help lessen the amount of plaque on the teeth and the decay associated with it.


Tartar is the plaque that has calcified or solidified as it has been allowed to remain in place for an extended time. Although tartar and plaque can both be harmful, tartar can be even more damaging to the teeth than plaque. The porous surface of the tartar becomes a hiding place for bacteria and additional plaque. 

When tartar develops beneath the gums, it causes the roots of the teeth to feel rough. This roughness can exacerbate gum inflammation, leading to gingival infections and severe periodontal disease. 

Additionally, tartar can fill the spaces between the teeth. There, its hard consistency can block your ability to floss properly. Tartar is more difficult to remove than its sticky predecessor. It must be scraped away with special tools by a dental professional. 

If you have tartar accumulations on your teeth, schedule an appointment with a family dentist in your local area to have them removed.