When listing the culprits behind oral problems, plaque and tartar come high on the list. But if you think those words are interchangeable, you’re mistaken — and knowing the difference between them, and how to treat them, can help to greatly improve your oral hygiene. Today, your Prevent Dental Suite dentist is here to explain the difference between plaque and tartar and how to deal with them — read, learn, and enjoy healthier teeth!
What is dental plaque?
Plaque is a sticky deposit of biofilm that regularly forms on your teeth. When saliva, food, and drinks combine they produce bacteria, which collect where the teeth and gums meet. These bacteria produce acids that attack your tooth enamel and damage your gums. If not treated, the damage can become permanent. If bacteria deposits from plaque on teeth aren’t removed through regular brushing and flossing, they can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and tartar buildup.
Where does plaque come from and what does it do?
When plaque is left untreated for too long, tartar (also known as calculus) forms. This yellow, rock-hard substance pushes gum tissue away from tooth and root surfaces, infects gums and eventually leads to loose teeth and even tooth loss. Worse, the bacteria in tartar, combined with the inflammation it causes, have been associated with:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- heart attack
- hardening of the arteries
- pregnancy complications
- low birth weight infants
- heart valve disease
You can prevent plaque from forming in two ways. First, by paying attention to your diet. Plaque feasts on carbohydrates and sugar, so cut back on those foods. Avoid candy, cookies, and other sweet things as much as possible in order to prevent plaque build-up.
Of course, not all carbohydrates can be avoided, so good oral hygiene is the other key step towards avoiding plaque. The best thing you can do is brush and floss twice a day. This removes plaque and the bits of food upon which plaque feeds.
The relationship between plaque and tartar
Over time, if plaque isn’t regularly removed, minerals from your saliva are deposited into the plaque biofilm causing it to harden. The new, hard substance is tartar. And while you can remove plaque at home, you can’t remove tartar.
And tartar needs to be removed. Once it forms, it becomes more difficult to effectively brush and floss your teeth. That leads to cavities and tooth decay. Tartar above the gum line can be especially serious. The bacteria it harbours irritates and damages gums, which, Over time, leads to inflammation that can lead to gum disease.
If tartar is not removed gum disease can progress to periodontitis, in which pockets form between the gums and teeth. Those pockets become infected by bacteria beneath the gums. The body’s immune system releases chemicals to fight the bacteria, which, along with the substances the bacteria release, can damage the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. This can ultimately lead to tooth loss and bone degradation.
Dealing with tartar at the dental office
The standard treatment for tartar deposit is a scale and polish.
Scaling is a deep cleaning of the tooth above and below the gum line in order to remove any plaque and calculus that has accumulated. This involves the use of special instruments and/or devices to loosen and remove deposits from the teeth. Commonly an ultrasonic machine is used. It has a fine tip that vibrates at ultrasonic frequency dislodging tartar and plaque from the tooth surface.
Once all the surfaces are smooth, the dental worker may polish your teeth. Polishing is done using a slow speed tool with a spinning soft rubber cup on the end. Prophylaxis (short for prophy) paste – a special gritty toothpaste-like material – is scooped into the cup and spun around on the teeth to make them shiny smooth.
Your dentist may also apply fluoride. Fluoride foam or gel is placed into small, flexible foam trays and placed over the teeth for a short period. The fluoride helps to strengthen teeth that have been weakened by the acids from bacteria in dental tartar and plaque.
Most dentists recommend having your teeth professionally cleaned at least every 6 to 12 months. More frequent cleaning and examination may be necessary in extreme cases.
High-quality Dental Care at Prevent Dental Suite
Prevent Dental Suites is comprised of dedicated dental professionals who provide gentle and patient-oriented care to offer the best-quality dental service from the moment patients come into our office. Dr. Shilpa Gupta is the resident dentist at our Kallangur clinic, and combines many years’ experience with personable service. To learn more about our amazing team, go to our team page.
Parking is easy and it’s free. Parking is located at the rear of the building – access via Storey Road.
Call (07) 3886 2428 or visit us at 9/1376 Anzac Ave in Kallangur.