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Plaque vs. Tartar: Differences, Treatment, Prevention Tips

Plaque vs. Tartar: Differences, Treatment, Prevention Tips
Most people know that they want to avoid both plaque and tartar, but they are not usually aware of the differences between the two. However, there are several important differences that must be understood in order to keep your teeth clean and healthy. Here are some of the basics about plaque, tartar, and their causes as well as prevention tips to help you make the right decisions for your teeth.


Plaque is a colorless, sticky film made of bacteria. It forms on your teeth and along your gum line over the course of the day. Every time you eat, the bacteria on your teeth produce acid that erodes your teeth. This is what is known as plaque.


Tartar is what happens when you allow too much plaque to accumulate on your teeth. When tartar sits for too long, it begins to harden and becomes calcified, attaching to the enamel on your teeth. The longer tartar sits, the more difficult it becomes to remove. If you let it harden too much, it can only be removed by a dental professional.

Tartar can cause cavities as well as discoloration and gum sensitivity. It can also lead to more serious issues like periodontal disease, so it is important to pay attention to plaque and tartar buildup.

Symptoms of Plaque and Tartar

Everybody will develop plaque throughout the day. If you run your tongue across your teeth and feel a fuzzy film on them, you are feeling plaque. It is not easy to see, but you can generally feel it in your mouth, and too much of it can lead to gingivitis and other uncomfortable feelings.

Tartar is a mineral buildup, so it is usually visible on your teeth. You may see a yellow or brownish discoloration at your gum line or between your lower front teeth. This will feel more firm and tangible than the “fuzziness” of plaque.


The main cause of excessive plaque and tartar buildup is a failure to properly take care of your teeth. After we eat, the bacteria from our food makes acids that begin to eat away at the enamel on our teeth. As tartar forms, plaque has more surface area on which to develop, leading to even more tartar and worsening tooth conditions. Thus, it is a vicious cycle that can rapidly decay your teeth and lead to other dental issues.


The best way to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar is to brush thoroughly at least twice a day. This means brushing for at least 2 minutes to ensure that you cover as much ground as possible. You should also floss at least once daily – twice if you are able to. This helps to immediately remove anything that may have been left by your meal. Be sure to schedule at least 2 dental visits every year for a deeper, more thorough cleaning that will take plaque and tartar removal one step further.

To learn more about treatments for plaque and tartar, contact Poff Dental Associates to schedule your appointment today!

About the Author: Dr. Justin Poff, DDS

Dr. Poff has been practicing dentistry since 2011. He received his dental degree from the University of Tennesse Health and Science Center. Dr. Poff is dedicated to excellence in dentistry and has committed to furthering his education to the topics of general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, short-term orthodontics, and implant dentistry.

Dr. Justin Poff, DDS

Arkansas native Dr. Justin Poff, DDS, is a University of Tennessee dental graduate committed to providing outstanding services in general, cosmetic, orthodontic, and implant dentistry. He now practices in Nashville, where he relocated with his wife after graduation, and continues to pursue excellence in dental care. When not in the dental office, Dr. Poff indulges in outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and skiing and contributes his time to the local community through his involvement with Young Life in Williamson County.

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