What is Tartar, and How Is It Different To Dental Plaque?
“My dentist told me that the way I brush I deserve a plaque… or I have plaque, something like that.”
Actually, plaque and tartar are no laughing matter, especially when you consider what they are and their rather nasty long-term effects. But what is tartar, and how is it different from plaque?
To answer the question of plaque versus tartar, let’s go back to the beginning. (Just for the record, both plaque and tartar are bad, and both need to be kept firmly in check.)
What is Dental Plaque?
In short, plaque is a clear sticky, bacteria-laden film which coats our teeth.
Our mouths are permanently warm, damp places and it stands to reason that bacteria are very quick to set up home and invite the in-laws. Add to this the countless items of food and drink that pass our lips daily, each with their own bacteria, and suddenly our mouths become a teeming mass of foreign organisms.
Our saliva lends a helping hand to keep our mouths and teeth clean from these invading hordes and contains bicarbonate, calcium and phosphate which assist with combatting bacteria and preventing infection of the teeth and gums. But it is never quite enough.
Plaque sticks to teeth and gums, between our teeth and below our gum line and slowly erodes tooth enamel and creates infections in our mouths.
If we enjoy a diet high in simple sugars (such as soft drinks), sweets, cake and some dairy products then we are providing a wonderfully nutritious home for bacteria-carrying plaque.
The only way to get rid of plaque is to brush and floss regularly.
What happens if plaque is left untreated?
What is Tartar?
Yes, you guessed right. Tartar is plaque’s revolting older brother and forms when plaque is left to run riot on our teeth. Tartar is also called dental calculus and appears as a yellow or brown deposit, usually between teeth or on the gumline.
Plaque becomes tartar surprisingly quickly – in 24 to 72 hours – and hardens to a cement-like substance which is nigh impossible to get off with a puny toothbrush.
As you can imagine, tartar comes with some unpleasant effects:
- Bad breath
- Swollen and receding gums
- Mouth infections
It’s not only poor oral hygiene, however, that allows tartar to flourish. Smokers are particularly susceptible, as are the aged, and those with overcrowded teeth. Young people with braces also need to take care to brush carefully and thoroughly.
If left untreated, mouth infections quickly become gum and bone infections and have a tendency to cause other more serious health issues such as heart disease.
So, it’s safe to say that we want neither plaque nor tartar taking up residence in our mouths. Which leads us to the next vital question…
How Do I Get Rid of Tartar?
Brushing alone simply won’t shift this stubborn and unsightly deposit from your teeth. This is when we turn to the professionals and visit our oral hygienist for a thorough clean.
At Shine Dental Clinic our hygienist or dentist will use an ultrasonic scaler and hand scaler. We then polish the teeth using paste or use something called “airpolish” – a jet which sprays powder on the teeth and is great at removing stains for a sparkling finish.
If you’re not sure what to expect, take a moment to watch this video which shows clearly how quick and simple this procedure is.
In order to keep your pearly whites in tip top shape, it is recommended that you visit your dentist at least once every 6 months for a deep clean to get rid of any tartar build-up. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.
Please take moment to look at our Smile Plans for the whole family. These allow you to visit your trusted (and may we add, very friendly!) dentist regularly, and not wait until disaster strikes.