Plaque? Tartar? What’s the deal?

When you’re at the dentist or listening to commercials on TV, you commonly hear terms like “plaque” and “tartar” thrown around. While we’re all generally familiar with the concepts and know these two things are detrimental to our mouth, how much do we really know about how tartar and plaque occur and what can be done about it? Also, once you have it, how do you get rid of it? 


In order to fully understand what is happening in our mouth, we will break down and demystify the harmful agents destroying your teeth and gum lines.  

 Plaque or tartar?

Are plaque and tartar the same thing? 


Although the two terms are sometimes used together, plaque and tarter are two different dental issues. Plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds on your teeth throughout the day. It increases as you eat, and sugary foods cause it to multiply even more quickly. To prevent plaque build-up, it’s important you brush and floss after every meal. The longer plaque remains on your teeth and gum line, the higher the likelihood of cavities and tooth decay. 


Tartar occurs when tooth plaque is not removed. When plaque forms, it’s soft and can be removed by a toothbrush, while tartar is hard and can only be removed by a dentist. Tartar left on the teeth can cause discoloration, decay, and more severe periodontal diseases. While we love to see you every six months to catch up on family and life, we’re also encouraging you to come in so we can remove the tartar from your teeth. Early intervention is key to prevention! 


Everyone in my family has bad teeth 


Many patients commonly use their genes as an excuse for poor oral health. While family history always can play a role into making you predisposed to certain ailments, the truth about plaque is that environmental factors are much more likely to cause problems with this kind of build-up. 


The number-one way to achieve plaque removal is by brushing your teeth. We all have bacteria in our mouths, and brushing early and often will remove the bad bacteria before it has the chance to adhere itself to your teeth. 


Another misconception is that many people don’t think they need to brush their teeth in the morning since they did the night before and have not have anything to eat since. Aside from the threat of walking around with morning breath, it’s important to brush your teeth to kill that bacteria that grows overnight. Since saliva production decreases while you sleep, bacteria are given the perfect environment to grow and multiply. 


Finally, your teeth can tell your dentist a lot about your diet. Foods that are heavy in sugar or carbohydrates increase the production of plaque. So, cleaning up your diet will also help clean your teeth.  


I can’t always brush my teeth: Am I doomed? 


We get it. It’s not always possible to brush your teeth right after you eat. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ll go hours without brushing, try eating tooth-friendly foods to naturally brush your teeth in the meantime. Choose crispy vegetables such as a salad filled with carrots and celery. These fibrous veggies act as a natural toothbrush and remove plaque while you are eating. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to wash away any food that lingers. And finally, pop some sugar free gum when you’re done with your meal. This will keep your mouth from drying out and help to remove any lingering plaque from your teeth. 


If your teeth are feeling grimy, that’s nature’s way of telling you it’s time to brush your teeth. Remember that plaque is a gateway to tartar, so it’s important to prevent plaque in the first place—or at least clean it up before it hardens into harmful tartar. Use these tips from above, and at your next six-month visit, we are sure we’ll see progress! 

Also published on Medium.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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If it's been more than 6 months since your last teeth cleaning, give us a call today to schedule your check-up.