Tartar vs. Plaque: What’s the difference?

added on: March 29, 2017

Tartar vs plaque What’s the difference?


Tartar is composed of 4 minerals, cellular and extra cellular matrix. The cells are mainly bacteria and several species of yeast.  Tartar is a calcified deposit that forms on the teeth.  It is a nidus for plaque and can also create a breeding ground for plaque. It can cause bad breath, chronically inflamed tissues and receding gums.

Dental plaque is a biofilm or mass of bacteria. It grows on surfaces in the mouth.  At times when running your tongue along your teeth they may have a “fuzzy sweater” feeling to them. What you’re feeling is dental plaque.  Plaque formation depends on ph, amount and make-up of saliva, temperature and chemical changes.     Dental plaque that builds can be a problem when on the tooth for an extended time period.  Plaque contributes to dental cavities when exposed to sugar, which feeds the bacteria and causes it to eat away at the tooth structure, forming a cavity.  Dental plaque can also contribute to periodontal disease when not removed or disrupted properly from the teeth and gums.

Gingivitis forms from plaque adhering to the teeth and gums. It can be removed by use of a manual or automatic toothbrush and various forms of aides for in between the teeth, like floss and tiny brushes. {insert article of interproximal devices here}  When plaque is not removed it irritates the tissues, causing them to bleed and become inflamed. This is called gingivitis.  If gingivitis is not treated, pockets can form and create housing for more biofilm to form.  The bacteria organize in the pocket and can be very difficult to clean.  The bacteria formation can eventually lead to tooth loss by destroying the surrounding tooth support (bone, gum, tissue and ligaments), unless periodontal disease is treated by a dentist or gum specialist.


Plaque can eventually turn to tartar from minerals in the saliva. Dental plaque is soft, while tartar is hard. Plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing habits.  Tartar needs to be removed by a dental professional.  Tartar itself does not cause harm to the teeth, but it creates gum tissue irritations where plaque can form easily and at times may be hard to remove, causing further gum tissue issues beyond bleeding and puffiness.

If you ran a hairbrush through your hair and it started to bleed, you would be concerned, right? If you’re bleeding when you brush and floss, this is not normal. You should see a dental professional as bleeding is a sign of unhealthy gum tissue.

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