The Difference Between Plaque and Tartar

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Plaque happens. Even the cleanest mouth, fresh from the dentist, will develop a thin film of plaque on the teeth within a few hours. Avoiding this naturally occurring plaque is as difficult as trying to keep your car completely dust free every single second of the day. That might be possible if you never take the car for a spin, but what fun is that? And what good are teeth if we don’t put them to work chewing food and sipping beverages? We use our teeth and that means they get plaque buildup, daily. So what is plaque?

Defining Plaque

Dental plaque is a sticky, colorless film made by and containing bacteria. It builds up naturally, because bacteria are always reproducing in our mouths. Bacteria thrive on the foods we eat, especially sugary and sticky foods. Well-fed bacteria produce acids that attack the tooth surface, and buildup of plaque along the gumline causes the mild gum irritation known as gingivitis. Fortunately, that buildup is easy to avoid, and we can treat it at home without any special tools. The routine is as simply as this:

  • Brush with a soft bristled toothbrush at least twice a day;
  • Use a toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association;
  • Floss daily, being careful to gently reach the floss under the gumline;
  • Use a plaque fighting mouthwash;
  • Avoid constant snacking and limit sugary drinks and treats.

So if keeping our teeth clean is so easy, why do we need to see the dentist regularly? While a thin film of plaque is no match for good hygiene habits, tartar is another beast, difficult to tackle on your own. When plaque on your teeth reacts with minerals in your saliva, it hardens, and that’s when tartar happens. Some people just naturally produce more tartar (also called calculus, and like the math, it’s hard) and most people start getting more tartar on their teeth as they age.

What Tartar Does to Gums

When tartar is above the gumline, it appears as a yellow or brown buildup, often between the lower front teeth. This substance is hard and rough, and is very tough on your gums, leading to significant gum disease. Wherever it is, under or above the gumline, you need to see a dental professional to have it removed. For most people, a clearing every six months is sufficient. If the dentists and hygienists at the Sacramento Dentistry Group find that you are experiencing more plaque or tartar buildup than normal, they may recommend a more frequent cleaning schedule.

Remember to attack the plaque daily with brushing, flossing and good dental habits. But when it comes to tackling the tartar, leave that to the experts at the Sacramento Dentistry Group. Trying to pick it off with dental tools while you look in the bathroom mirror often leads to painful stab wounds and lacerations on the gums. So leave that work to our experts! And if you’ve been putting off an appointment or are due for your regular cleaning, please call us, stop by our convenient downtown Sacramento location or make an appointment online.

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