What Are Plaque and Tartar and What Damage Can They Do?

What Are Plaque and Tartar and What Damage Can They Do?

Fighting plaque and tartar is one of the most important goals of oral health care. Scan any tube of toothpaste, and you’re sure to find words like “removes plaque” and “fights tartar” 一 but have you ever wondered what plaque and tartar are exactly? 

That’s just the question that Dr. David Blaustein of Chelsea Dental Aesthetics, in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, is here to answer. 

What is plaque?

Plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth, and it ranges in color from pale yellow to colorless. Some people describe their teeth as feeling “fuzzy” because of plaque. 

Plaque goes by many names: dental plaque, dental biofilm, and microbial plaque. It’s often called a biofilm because it contains living bacteria. 

Your mouth naturally contains over 700 species of microbes 一 the “good” bacteria keep the bad ones in check 一 but an imbalance of microbes can lead to oral problems like decay.

Problems arise when bacteria combine with food, saliva, and other debris to form the sticky film that covers your teeth. The bacteria consume the sugary foods you eat and secrete decay-causing acid.

Unless the plaque is removed through brushing and flossing, the acid eats away at your tooth enamel, leads to cavities, and even damages your gums. Plaque can also lead to tartar.

What is tartar?

While plaque is soft and sticky, tartar is just the opposite. Tartar is calcified plaque that forms when minerals from your saliva combine with plaque. All it takes is 24-72 hours for plaque to harden into tartar. You might notice tartar as white, yellow, or brown deposits on your teeth.

Tartar, also called dental calculus, isn’t easily removed at home. That’s because tartar bonds to the enamel on your teeth, and it requires a professional dental cleaning to remove it.

Tartar is carefully scraped from your teeth, but if it’s severe, you may need a deep cleaning 一 known as scaling and root planing 一 to remove the tartar completely.

The following conditions increase your risk for developing tartar:

If tartar forms under your gum line, it can irritate your delicate gum tissue. When your gums are irritated, they tend to pull away from your teeth, creating periodontal pockets

Why plaque and tartar are so damaging

While it’s true that plaque and tartar create bothersome stains on your teeth, they cause much more than cosmetic damage. Unless removed in a timely manner, plaque and tartar lead to:

The best defense against plaque and tartar is daily brushing and flossing, but if you happen to notice tartar buildup, don’t hesitate to reach out to Chelsea Dental Aesthetics. Removing tartar can help you avoid these unwanted complications.

Can you prevent plaque and tartar?

Plaque and tartar are two of the biggest threats to your oral health, but thankfully, there are steps you can take to improve the health of your mouth:

If you wear braces or have a dental bridge, consider using flossing aids or water flossers to ensure that plaque is thoroughly removed from hard-to-reach places.

Ready to schedule a dental exam or cleaning? Our Manhattan office is just a call or click away.

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