Understanding the Difference Between Tartar and Plaque

healthy start in Longmont

For patients looking to get a healthy start in Longmont on the coming New Year, maintaining and improving your oral health should rank as a top priority. While your teeth are tough, tooth enamel ranks as one of the hardest substances in the body, they can only take some much wear and tear. If you allow plaque to build up on the surface of your teeth, you risk it hardening into tartar.

Tartar can ruin your oral health and make it very difficult for you to get that healthy start in Longmont you’ve been looking for. Tartar can lead to tooth decay and the development of gum disease, so knowing the difference between tartar and plaque can mean the difference between a smile that sparkles and one that needs some serious attention.

Dental Plaque

Plaque develops on everybody’s teeth. A biofilm made of bacteria, saliva, and food particles that linger in the mouth after eating, plaque collects on the surface of our teeth as a natural part of the body.

Plaque can contain over 500 different types of bacteria, according to the American Dental Association. Some of these bacteria are beneficial while others can harm your oral health.

Harmful bacteria produce acids after you eat or drink. The amount of acid bacteria produce increase even more after you eat or drink sugary items like soda, candy, bread, and pasta. These acids attack tooth enamel, which can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay, and cavities.

When plaque is allowed to remain on the surface of your teeth, it can begin to harden into calculus, also known as tartar. The buildup of plaque and tartar can cause gum tissue to become swollen, inflamed, and tender to the touch. These symptoms mark the early stages of gum disease.

To successfully prevent the buildup of plaque, you need to:

  • Brush at least twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you consume
  • Visit your family dentist in Longmont at least once every six months


Regular dental hygiene remains the key to preventing tartar buildup. If you don’t practice quality oral hygiene at home daily, your risk for experiencing significant oral health problems increases.

When plaque sits on your teeth longer than it should, it mixes with minerals in your saliva and eventually transforms into tartar. Tartar can discolor your teeth, causing a yellowish tint to develop on the surface of your tooth enamel. As tartar continues to buildup, it can move below the gum line and make cleaning your teeth more difficult.

Once tartar spreads to below the gum line, our team of dental hygienists will have to remove the tartar to prevent further damage from occurring. The presence of tartar contributes to the development of inflammation and gingivitis. If left untreated gingivitis can progress into the far more serious periodontitis.

Periodontitis attacks the underlying bone structure and soft tissues that hold your teeth into position. Given enough time, periodontitis can destroy portions of your jawbone while also causing your gums to recede away from the base of your teeth. In addition to causing tooth sensitivity and dental discomfort, untreated periodontitis can lead to tooth loss, problems chewing, and the permanent alteration of your smile.

Nearly half of all adults 30 and older in the U.S. have some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How Plaque and Tartar Differ

While similar, plaque and tartar have very different effects on the body.

Plaque forms naturally on tooth enamel, and can be successfully removed with daily brushing and flossing. Tartar is hardened plaque that can only be removed during a cleaning by a dental hygienist.

The impact plaque can have on your oral health is easily treatable and even reversible. The damage caused by tartar can cost far more to repair and may be irreversible depending the severity of the damage done.

If you hope to get a healthy start in Longmont on the coming New Year, you need to make your oral health a top priority in 2021. This means brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and scheduling regular exams and cleanings with our team at Twin Peaks Family Dental.