Dr. Stephen A. Price


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Are Plaque and Tartar the Same?

By: | Saturday, June 15th, 2019 | General Dentistry

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

You may have heard the terms “plaque” and “tartar” and made the assumption that they are interchangeable; that they are, in fact, one and the same. This is an understandable mistake because both words are used in conversation regarding gum disease. Both are named as contributing factors to the onset of inflammation and infection. Here, we break down the differences between plaque and tartar. They matter!

What is plaque?

Plaque is a substance that sticks to tooth enamel. Often, it accumulates along the gum line. This colorless, sticky film is made up of saliva, tiny particles of food debris, and bacteria. You may not be able to see plaque but you can feel it; it’s that fuzzy feeling against your tongue that you sense when you haven’t yet brushed your teeth.

We all get plaque. This film develops as a natural response to the sugar and starches in the foods we eat. It develops in the hours between brushing and flossing. If oral hygiene is not sufficient (lasting two full minutes before flossing), plaque may build up right away after leaving the sink. Plaque is acidic in nature, so is a precursor to tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.

What is tartar?

Plaque is a concerning problem on its own; and yet, there’s more. Tartar, also called calculus, can significantly degrade oral health. This substance is the hardened, stuck-on film that was once plaque. Because tartar has solidified, it sticks to teeth until removed with a special instrument. Like plaque, tartar is also acidic. Allowed to remain on the teeth for too long, this hardened film can stretch beneath the gum line, where it can provoke infection in soft and hard tissues, namely the root of a tooth or teeth.

Protect Oral Health by Preventing Plaque and Tartar

We can’t overstate the value of good oral hygiene. It’s the way to prevent plaque buildup and, by default, also the way to prevent tartar. To protect your teeth and gums, consider the following suggestions:

We’re here to help you avoid the preventable dental problems that cause stress and pain. Schedule your visit at (703)-935-2879.



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