Plaque and Tartar: What they are and How to Keep them Under Control

Plaque and tartar, two words frequently heard during a visit to the dentist, are prime culprits when it comes to tooth decay and gum disease.  However, most people don’t know exactly what these two substances, that are a constant threat to dental health, really are.

Plaque: The first stage of bacterial build-up on the teeth is called dental plaque.  This is a soft, sticky, colorless film consisting of food particles, bacteria, and saliva that builds up on and the between the teeth and under the gums every day.  When you first get up in the morning you may have felt a fuzzy or sticky coating on your teeth – this is plaque.

Plaque is made up of millions of bacteria that live on leftover sugars and starches from the foods we eat.  After it absorbs these particles it excretes acid onto our teeth.

The goods news is that, because plaque is soft, it can be removed easily by regular and diligent flossing and brushing.  

Tartar: When plaque is allowed to sit on the teeth too long it becomes a hard, yellow or brown substance called tartar.  Tartar bonds to the tooth enamel and can only be removed by professional cleaning. You may wonder how this happens.  When the acid that  is produced by oral bacteria comes into contact with the mineral in saliva, it causes a chemical reaction that hardens the plaque, turning it into tartar.  The risk of this build up increases for people with a condition known as dry mouth, for kids and adults with braces, people with crowded teeth, and those who smoke. The tendency to have problems with tartar also increases with age. 

You Can Keep Plaque and Tartar Under Control

Conscientious observance of an oral hygiene routine, coupled with regular professional cleaning can help control oral plaque and keep it from hardening into tartar. 

Here are some steps to include in your hygiene routine:

  • Choose a high-quality anti-plaque toothpaste
  • Brush twice daily for two minutes, making sure you reach all surfaces including the gum line and hard to reach areas.
  • Consider using an electric toothbrush for the most effective plaque removal. 
  • Change your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head regularly. 
  • Floss either by hand or with a water flosser daily to clean plaque and food debris from between the teeth.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Schedule regular visits to the dentist for professional cleanings.

Winning the Battle for Your Dental Health

It only takes a few minutes in the morning and before bed at night to win the daily battle against plaque and tartar.  You can also ensure continued oral health with regular dental visits.

Working together, we can keep your teeth plaque and tartar free!

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