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Plaque vs Tartar

plaque on teeth and toothbrush

A lot can go wrong with your teeth, considering that, once fully grown, they don’t seem to do much but sit there and grind food into manageably-sized particles. Two of the most common problems that affect teeth are plaque and tartar. In fact, they’re so common that the terms are used interchangeably – but there is a difference between them.

What is Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky bacterial film of saliva and food particles (gross!) that clings to your teeth, and left unchecked, can cause gingivitis, periodontal disease and cavities. To complicate matters, plaque is colourless, and concentrates around the gum line, making it hard to see.

Because plaque is acidic, it can damage enamel – the hard, translucent, protective layer that surrounds teeth – and create a space for cavities to form. And your teeth aren’t the only thing at risk: plaque irritates and damages sensitive gum tissue, paving the way for soreness, bleeding, receding gums, and eventually, periodontal disease. If gums recede too far, teeth may become unstable, and fall out.

What is Tartar?

Tartar – also referred to as “calculus” – is yellow-brown in colour, porous, crusty and hard. It’s more easily seen, and as such, more unsightly, than plaque. And unlike plaque, which can usually be swept away by brushing, tartar can only be removed by a dental professional.

The hard, crusty nature of tartar makes it especially dangerous. It traps bacteria against your teeth and gums, resulting in tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss. Think of tartar as plaque’s mean cousin, the one who picks on your teeth and won’t leave them alone.

Tartar removal involves a process called “scaling”, in which a dental professional uses high-powered devices to power away tartar deposits. In advanced cases – when tartar has accumulated below the gumline – surgery may be required. That’s why proactivity is so important – it can prevent such drastic measures from ever becoming necessary.

Trust Your Toothbrush

Dental visits are usually costly, and often uncomfortable. Which would you rather have – an hour or more with your mouth propped open, bright light glaring down at your face, while your hard-earned money drains into the well-padded pockets of your dentist (bless them, though, for the tooth-saving work they perform!); or a simple, daily routine, which costs little, and spares you the aforementioned discomfort?

Good oral health is easily attained. It requires but four basic tools:

  • A toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Mouthwash

The first two are critical; the latter two, are optional, but very highly recommended. To make the most of your oral hygiene routine, consider investing in a premium plaque removing electric toothbrush – Oral-B and Philips Sonicare brand products are highly regarded by dental professionals and consumers alike.

The Oral-B FlossAction brush head is particularly good at removing plaque, providing a floss-like cleaning action along the gum line, where plaque and tartar first form.

Some toothpaste – such as Crest’s Tartar Protection, Pro-Health and Vivid White – contains pyrophosphate, a tartar-controlling agent that inhibits tartar formation by adhering to the surface of the teeth, preventing tartar from taking hold.

Following brushing with thorough flossing will help remove stubborn food particles from in between teeth. There is a wide range of dental floss from which to choose – simply go with what suits you best. For example, if your teeth are tightly spaced, you might prefer narrow, single-strand, waxed floss that glides easily through small spaces. Conversely, someone whose teeth are more widely spaced may prefer thicker or more loosely-constructed floss.

Finish each cleaning by rinsing with mouthwash. Not only does mouthwash help combat halitosis (bad breath), most formulations contain antibacterial agents that kill the bacteria responsible for causing plaque and tartar.

Related: Manual Toothbrush vs Electric