Plaque and Tartar: The Differences and Consequences
Plaque is the precursor of tartar in dental terms. While neither one is desirable, neither is 100% avoidable, either. Although plaque and tartar form naturally in the mouth, it is important to take good care of your oral hygiene to avoid the consequences that these substances can incur.
Plaque is formed when the bacteria that are ever-present in the mouth combine with saliva and food particles to form a soft, colorless, sticky film that adheres to tooth surfaces. Plaque adheres to both the enamel and fillings, and builds up around the gum line. If not removed, it leads to cavity formation and tartar buildup. It is important to note that plaque can be regularly effectively removed with consistent, twice-daily brushing and flossing.
How Does Plaque Becomes Tartar?
Within about a day, plaque that has not been removed from the mouth begins to change into a thicker, yellowish, porous coating —tartar— that hardens and becomes crusty along the gum line and between teeth. Tartar in the mouth forms a perfect environment for bacterial growth, can contribute to cavity formation, can cause bad breath, and is responsible for most of the problems associated with early stages of gum disease. The mildest form of damage is called “gingivitis,” but progressive deterioration of the gum tissue leads to much more serious consequences, such as tooth loss in adults.
While plaque is easy to remove with diligent home care, which includes brushing and flossing, tartar calcifies and hardens over time, making it too difficult to remove at home. Tartar can only be removed by a dental professional through a procedure known as scaling, which employs a special dental tool. This is the procedure dental hygienists employ during a cleaning appointment, and it is generally not invasive, nor particularly uncomfortable.
If these regularly scheduled cleaning appointments are avoided, removing tartar buildup will become even more difficult. This is the result of the mouth’s bacteria at work. When bacteria find a comfortable home within the hard coating of tartar, it can wreak havoc on healthy gums.
The Detrimental Effects of Tartar
It is estimated that at least half of American adults will, at some point in their lives, face some form of mild, moderate, or severe periodontal disease.
Gingivitis is characterized by tartar buildup along the gum line, and it is often accompanied by tenderness, inflammation, or bleeding during brushing and flossing. Its effects can usually be halted and reversed through diligent attention to daily brushing and flossing, the use of an appropriate antiseptic mouthwash if deemed necessary, and regular professional cleanings.
If the symptoms of gingivitis are ignored, the situation can become even worse. Left to their own devices, bacteria and the tartar can form “pockets” between teeth, and healthy tissue can become a breeding ground for decay and destruction. Periodontitis is an infection that becomes progressively more serious and leads eventually to the separation of the teeth and gums. It is a leading cause of tooth loss and disfigurement, and has been linked to other medical problems as well, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and premature births or low-birth weight babies.
Ways to Eliminate Tartar Buildup
While, as we mentioned earlier, there is little you can do to counteract plaque formation, there is a lot you can do to remove the plaque before it has a chance to become tartar. Here are some easy ways:
- Follow the standard advice to brush and floss at least twice daily. The standard recommendation is to brush for at least two minutes with a soft-bristled brush that fits comfortably in your hand and mouth. Follow the brushing with a full round of flossing. Get those hard to reach spots and be sure not to miss a day. If you need some pointers on proper technique, our team at Briglia Dental Group will be happy to instruct you.
- Use tartar-control toothpaste that contains fluoride, which has been proven to help repair tooth enamel. Some brands also contain bacteria-fighting ingredients, which can further exacerbate its tartar-fighting capacities.
- Floss religiously. Even though studies have shown that most Americans would rather do almost anything other than floss (and some studies report that most people actually lie to dentists about their flossing habits), it is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your daily oral health routine. Don’t neglect it. Again, if you are uncertain about the proper way to floss, let us help!
- Rinse daily, especially before bedtime, with an antiseptic mouthwash that will help kill the bacteria that causes plaque formation.
- Don’t smoke. There is evidence that suggests that smokers are more likely to produce bacterial plaque and experience higher levels of tartar buildup. Gum disease also may also progress faster in smokers, because smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, which harms the body’s ability to fight infection.
- Watch what you eat. A healthier diet affects not only your total well being, but your oral health as well. Bacteria love starches and sugar, so try to limit your intake or at least rinse with plain water after eating sweets or a meal filled with pasta, potatoes or bread. Snack on fresh, raw vegetables and fruits. Fruits with crunchy textures like pears and apples even help to remove plaque acting as natural “tooth scrubbers.”
- Drink plenty of water. It’s good between-meal “therapy” for a healthy mouth, and can help rinse off plaque buildup on the teeth.
- Finally, call us to schedule those regular checkups and at least twice-yearly cleaning appointments. It is extremely crucial to prevent tartar buildup before it leads to severe effects like gum disease. Even if your oral hygiene care at home could use some additional attention, we can help to correct your current condition and prevent future problems.