Plaque & Tartar: Explained

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Plaque & Tartar: Explained

dental tooth in patient's mouth

Sierra Oaks Dental Group | Sacramento California | Sacramento Dentist

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When it comes to oral hygiene you immediately think of limiting PLAQUE and TARTAR.  They build up over time if you’re not practicing proper oral health care and they cause tooth decay and gum disease.  Do you actually know what PLAQUE and TARTAR are though?


The plaque that occurs in your mouth is a biofilm composed of bacteria, food particles, and saliva.  It builds up in our gum line between our teeth and gums as well as in the spaces between our teeth over time.  If you miss brushing or flossing for a period of time you’ll likely feel a weird texture along your teeth. This icky, tacky feeling is a result of the buildup of plaque.  The bacteria in plaque digests food particles and leaves acid on our teeth through the chemical reaction. Regular brushing and flossing is the best way to reduce the amount of plaque in our mouths.  Another great habit is to drink water after eating anything. Drinking water helps remove food particles from our mouth.


Tartar is the solidification of plaque over time.  If plaque isn’t removed from your teeth, gum lines, and spaces in between your teeth the plaque hardens.  As it solidifies it turns a yellowish brown color and bonds to the tooth enamel. Tartar can only be removed at a professional oral hygiene visit.

The Science of Plaque to Tartar Transformations

The acid that is left by oral bacteria reacts with the minerals in our saliva, which hardens the plaque in to tartar.  Poor oral hygiene habits aren’t the only cause of tartar. Tartar buildup can also be caused by dry mouth, crowded teeth, smoking habits, and orthodontics.

Good Habits To Limit Plaque and Tartar

Brushing and flossing regularly with proper technique are the most important steps to take towards limiting tartar.  Utilizing a water flosser is an excellent alternative to regular floss. The water channel helps remove plaque from in between teeth as well as along the gum line.  Avoiding smoking is also beneficial to limiting plaque. Having a clinical oral hygiene visit at least every six months is also critical to keeping plaque and tartar under control.