The Differences Between Tartar and Plaque

When you hear dentists and toothpaste commercials emphasize the importance of preventing tartar and preventing plaque, they’re technically talking about the exact same thing. The two are one in the same, especially if left untreated for as little as half a day. You want to prevent and remove both tartar and plaque. 

If you do an excellent job at removing plaque, you’ll never have to worry about the more complicated removal of tartar.

What is Plaque?

Bacteria are constantly entering your mouth throughout the day. The first thing they attempt to do is establish a “squatter’s rights” situation. They’re in a warm, wet, dark environment that is perfect for fast and plentiful reproduction. They want to stay there forever. 

The tissue of your gums and tongue don’t provide a stable enough surface for them to call home, but your teeth are just right. They’re slightly textured and the surface is a bit harder, allowing them to build a sticky little house to live in. They leave behind a film called plaque.

Everything sticks to this plaque. The bacteria breed in it. It catches foods that they love to eat, which are primarily starch and sugar. They hang out on the plaque all day long, eating the sugar and excreting it into an acid that’s powerful enough to erode your enamel. 

What is Tartar?

Tartar, also called dental calculus, is a hard yellowish substance that cements itself to the teeth. It traps the healthy tooth inside, preventing it from being adequately cleaned. It houses bacteria and acids beneath its surface, allowing them to eat away at your teeth at their leisure. 

How Does Plaque Become Tartar?

Plaque continues to accumulate debris and bacteria until it hardens. When it hardens, it becomes tartar. It might seem like tartar only happens to people who have been completely negligent with their dental healthcare, but it doesn’t take very long for that process to begin. Plaque can begin to harden into tartar in as little as 12 hours. 

If you regularly brush your teeth very well every day, but spend a sick day or two in bed and fail to brush your teeth, tartar has already begun to form. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve taken care of your teeth in the past. Tartar is something that is an ever present and constantly looming threat, even for people who are absolute dental health fanatics. It can happen to anyone.

How Do You Remove Plaque?

Plaque is removed by following a strict dental health routine. Brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time with a soft bristled toothbrush, flossing at least once a day, and using antibacterial mouthwash can help to remove plaque from your teeth. 

It’s very important to never take a day off. Make sure you get your twice a day sessions in every day, and brush for all two minutes both times. 

How Do You Remove Tartar?

You can’t remove tartar. Tartar sets in like cement, and it doesn’t want to leave once it’s firmly planted. You might see dental scaling tools or tartar removing devices in stores or online, but you’re more likely to damage your teeth than remove plaque with these devices. Sharp implements can damage your gum and scratch up the exposed surfaces of your teeth, weakening your enamel and causing your mouth to bleed.

Your dentist will usually remove plaque with a special tool that’s attached to a high-powered water jet. This thin and forceful stream of water will cut through plaque like a saw without damaging the tooth underneath. The pieces are removed from your mouth after your natural tooth has been completely unearthed.

What Happens If You Don’t Remove Tartar?

If you don’t remove tartar, the tooth underneath can decay to the point where it’s no longer viable. People who wait too long to have their tartar removed may wind up with severe gum disease, infections that reach the jawbone, or severely decayed teeth that need to be removed. 

Tartar is a completely preventable problem. Merely removing your plaque twice a day is enough to keep tartar and the complication it causes away from your mouth and out of your life. 

Preventing Plaque Buildup

Many people think they’re doing a good enough job brushing their teeth. The reality of the matter is that you can brush twice a day for two minutes and still not remove all of the plaque on your teeth. People often miss the backs of their teeth since they’re the hardest to brush. Some people don’t apply adequate pressure and barely skim the surface of their plaque.

You need to be sure you’re using the right methods and products to fully remove plaque from your mouth each time you brush. 

See How Well You’re Doing

The best way to evaluate your routine for its ability to remove plaque is to use something called a plaque disclosing tablet. These tablets are generally marketed towards children, but they’re just as valuable to adults. 

You chew up the tablet thoroughly. As you do so, a special dye begins to fill your mouth. New plaque formations will turn red, and old plaque formations will turn blue. You’ll see how much plaque you’ve failed to remove in your previous brushing sessions and how much plaque has accumulated since them. 

You can brush away the dye, taking the plaque with it. After you’ve brushed the dye away, chew up another tablet to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

A little trial and error with plaque disclosing tablets will help you gauge your brushing techniques, including duration and pressure. After a few weeks of brushing with disclosing tablets, you should be able to innately feel whether or not your teeth are adequately brushed. 

It’s important to use a soft bristled toothbrush at all times. Harder bristled toothbrushes won’t remove plaque any faster. They’ll simply irritate your gums and scratch away at the surface of your teeth. Soft bristled brushes are also extremely important when you’re experimenting with plaque tablets. You might wind up brushing a little longer than you normally do, and you don’t want the abrasive texture of a hard brush to damage your teeth.

Destroying Oral Bacteria

Bacteria can’t form tooth destroying plaque if they’re dead. You don’t want to leave any bad bacteria alive in your mouth to continue doing damage. 

Most toothpastes don’t contain any ingredients to kill bacteria. Mouthwash contains alcohol to kill bacteria, but alcohol destroys your oral microbiome. When it kills bacteria, it will also kill the natural microorganisms that your body sends to restore balance in your mouth.

Ingredients like nano silver can target bad bacteria without damaging your mouth’s biofilm. It will pass right through your body’s protective barriers to seek out bad bacteria. When it finds them, it will rapidly begin stealing thousands of electrons from their cell walls, causing them to implode and rendering them useless. 

You can use nano silver infused toothpastes and mouthwashes to ensure that no bad bacteria is left behind. This can inhibit overnight plaque production and make your morning brushing session a breeze. 

Using the Right Toothpaste

In order to form plaque, bacteria need to be able to stick to the surface of your teeth. If your teeth are freshly brushed with most conventional toothpastes, you’re giving bacteria the perfect surface to take over.

Look for a toothpaste containing xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from the wood of birch trees. It acts as a natural sweetener in your toothpaste, but that’s not its only purpose in your oral health routine. Xylitol is not the kind of sugar that bacteria want to eat. They cannot consume it and excrete it into acid that causes cavities and tooth decay. 

The real magic of xylitol is the way it helps to repel bacteria. When you brush your teeth with xylitol, it leaves behind a harmless film on your teeth. Bacteria cannot adhere to this film to begin to form plaque. The barrier serves as protection throughout the day. You can use gum or mints with xylitol after you eat to freshen your breath and restore this plaque repelling barrier. 

The Takeaway

Be diligent about removing your plaque before it starts to become tartar. You only have 12 hours. Plaque moves quickly to attempt to set up a permanent home, and once it wins, reversing the damage is a lot more costly and complicated. 

We all want to have lazy nights where we crawl into bed without brushing our teeth, but consider the potential consequences. Is it really worth saving two minutes of your time? 



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