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Plaque vs Tartar: Differences, Prevention, Treatment

27th April 2021

You’ve probably heard of the words ‘plaque’ and ‘tartar’ when you’ve come in to see us (we hope anyway!) and you might know that neither are particularly desirable, but what exactly are they? Arming yourself with the facts can help you care for your teeth.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a clear, sticky film containing bacteria that builds up naturally on tooth surfaces. It builds especially along the gum line within four to twelve hours after brushing. Plaque itself isn’t a big problem, however it all changes when you introduce sugars in food and drink. Bacteria in the plaque feed off the sugars and create harmful acids, which overtime can erode the enamel on your teeth, resulting in tooth decay and cavities. Plaque can also irritate your gums and contribute to gum disease, like gingivitis.

How can you prevent plaque build-up?

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Cut back on sugary foods and drinks or limit them to meal-times only
  • Drink a glass of water or chew sugar-free gum after eating, to help wash away food and bacteria.
  • See our hygienists regularly for routine cleans

The hard truth about tartar

When plaque isn’t removed thoroughly, it can harden and turn into tartar. This can happen as quickly as 48 hours after not brushing, which is why it is super important to never skip brushing and flossing your teeth, no matter how late you get home after a night out!

Tartar, unlike plaque, is not colourless, but an undesirable shade of yellow or brown and can’t be brushed away. Tartar usually forms around the gumline and not only does it cause tooth decay and gum disease but as it’s porous, stains easily, leaving your teeth looking quite unpleasant. If left untreated, tartar will continue to build up – so it’s important to act sooner rather than later.

How can you prevent tartar?

Tartar can only be removed by a dentist or hygienist, so make sure to have regular cleans with our hygienists to avoid tartar build-up.

What happens if plaque and tartar aren’t treated?

Plaque build-up can lead to gum disease — first gingivitis, the tender and swollen gums that sometimes bleed. If this progresses, severe periodontal (gum) disease can develop. Gum tissue pulls away from the teeth, allowing the bacteria to destroy the underlying bone supporting the teeth. In the worst cases, the bone supporting the teeth is destroyed and can lead to tooth loss.

How can we at CGDP help?

Always see our hygienists regularly, as even the most avid of brushers and flossers will miss some areas in the mouth. Our hygienists will be sure to clean all the hard reach areas and remove any tartar in the mouth.

If you think you have gum disease, book an appointment with us and we will assess your oral health and check for any signs of gingivitis or periodontal disease and the cause of it.

If you have deteriorating gum problems or periodontitis, one of our dentists may refer you to our in-house periodontist, Dr Tay, an expert in the field who will advise you accordingly on what the best treatment is depending on your case. Some treatments may include deep cleaning under the gums (non-surgical periodontal therapy), gum and bone surgery (surgical treatment), reduction of gum recession, implants to help replace missing teeth that have been lost due to gum disease and improving your smile after the treatment of gum disease.

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“… Few people can claim that their visits to the dentist are enjoyable, but mine to you were. Thank you for looking after my teeth so well…” – Patient