What is the difference between plaque and tartar?

Teeth are tough and covered by enamel, the hardest part of your body. They can handle plenty of wear and tear every day. But you may be at risk of tartar formation if you allow plaque build-up. Tartar can be detrimental to your dental health, leading to gum disease. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the difference between plaque and tartar. By the end of this blog, you’ll know how to prevent and what to do if you notice plaque and tartar buildup on your teeth.

What is plaque?

Most people have dental plaque on their teeth. It is a soft, sticky biofilm on your teeth, formed after bacteria mixes with food and saliva, containing around 500 species of bacteria, including harmful and harmless bacteria.

Harmful bacteria product acids depending on what you eat or drink, especially when eating or drinking sugary foods. Bacteria produce acids that attack your tooth enamel, leading to more severe complications for your oral as well as overall health.

If you don’t remove plaque, it can harden and turn into tartar. This can cause your gums to become swollen and tender, an early stage of gum disease. To prevent this from happening, it’s essential to:

  • Brush twice a day for two minutes and floss daily
  • Limit consuming sugary and acidic foods and drinks and brush your teeth 30 minutes after consuming such foods
  • Visit your dentist for a routine checkup and cleaning every six months

What is tartar?

Tartar, also known as dental calculus, forms above and below the gum line. Dental hygiene is key to preventing this from happening. But if you don’t follow a proper oral hygiene regimen, like brushing and flossing, plaque sitting on your teeth can quickly turn into tartar and can wreak havoc on your oral health.

When this occurs, plaque combines saliva and food and eventually forms tartar near your teeth. Tartar develops on your teeth’ exterior and below the gum line, making it harder to clean your teeth. Once it spreads to your gum line, you will need a dentist to remove it and prevent gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease.

If left untreated, it can turn into periodontitis and may pull away from gums from your teeth, known as gum recession. It can also lead to tooth loss.  

What are the critical differences between plaque and tartar?

Tartar and plaque both cause serious dental issues. But here are some key differences to address.

Their buildup process is different

Plaque builds up on your teeth when you eat or drink, especially when consuming sugary foods or carbohydrates. Plaque formation is common, but if you follow a proper oral hygiene routine, like brushing and flossing, you can remove plaque before it hardens and forms tartar.

They look different

Plaque is often hard to see and colorless, and you’ll have a fuzzy feeling when you slide your tongue over it. Tartar, on the other hand, may feel rough and appear brown or yellow.

Their removal process is different

You can easily remove plaque from your teeth by brushing and flossing daily. Tartar, in contrast, needs professional cleaning by the dentist to get off your teeth and gum line.


Now that you know the key differences between plaque and tartar, it’s essential to keep your teeth clean and visit your dentist for cleaning and checkup. Please get in touch with the dentist in Houston, TX, at Vintage Smile Family Dentistry for more information. We are more than happy to help you!

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