What Is The Difference Between Plaque, Tartar And Calculus?What Is The Difference Between Plaque, Tartar And Calculus?

Bacteria are constantly present in your mouth and plaque is simply a clear sticky substance that is made of bacteria. This film of bacteria is not harmful to your teeth or the health of your gums as long as it is removed daily, and removing it is easily done with good oral hygiene that includes brushing and flossing. However, when plague isn't consistently removed, it will build up and release acids that can cause tooth decay and gum disease.

When plaque builds up in your mouth it can turn into calcified deposits called tartar (also known as calculus), which is very harmful to the health of your mouth, teeth and gums. Tartar is often the culprit behind cavities, gingivitis and tooth loss. And it's a vicious cycle because the presence of tartar in your mouth creates rough surfaces which provide a perfect environment for more plaque and tartar.

Tartar can build up quickly or slowly over time and it develops both above and below your gum line. People who have less saliva in their mouths are more susceptible to tartar buildup because saliva contains bacteria-killing enzymes that fight against plaque, which is the foundation for tartar.

Once tartar has built up in your mouth, it can only be removed by a dentist, but good oral hygiene will keep plaque to a minimum and thus prevent additional tartar buildup. Plaque begins to build in your mouth within four hours of eating, so brushing after meals is the best defense against it, but a minimum of brushing in the morning and at night will help prevent plaque buildup which in effect prevents tartar.

Plaque is hard to detect because it is a colorless film, but tartar is fairly easy to spot when it is above the gum line because it turns your teeth and gums a yellow or brown color. Regular professional teeth cleaning that is performed in your dentist's office removes plaque and tartar (calculus) from your teeth and gums.

If your teeth have a build up of tartar, a deep cleaning may be required to bring your teeth and gums back to a healthy condition. Part of the process of deep cleaning includes scaling, which requires a special tool to remove infected deposits of plaque or tartar that may exist below your gum line, behind your teeth or in the area between your teeth. Once the scaling process is complete, your teeth are polished. If tartar build up does exist on your teeth, scaling and polishing help prevent gum disease.

Using tartar control toothpaste, along with brushing, flossing and regular dental visits, can help control tartar, but once it begins to build up, it can only be removed in a dentist's office with the use of special tools. And ignoring tartar buildup can lead to cavities, gum disease and even tooth loss.

The more you know about plaque and tartar (calculus), the more prepared you can be in preventing and treating it.
by Dr. Susan Wells
References and Bibliography
Dr. Susan Wells DMD has been a warrior dentist practicing dentistry in Warrior, Alabama since 1978.  She treats patients for all aspects of general dentistry including preventive dental care oral hygiene instruction and full scale exams and cleanings. To find out more visit her site at http://DrSusanWells.com.
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