Two important dental hygiene issues are plaque and tartar control. Patients often confuse plaque and tartar and how they’re related to each other. Read on to learn how to differentiate them and tailor your dental hygiene routine to help control them.
Plaque is a sticky, colorless deposit of bacteria that is constantly forming on the tooth surface. Saliva, food, and fluids combine to produce these deposits that collect on teeth and where teeth and gums meet.
The buildup of plaque can trap stains on the teeth, and it is also the primary factor in gum disease. Fighting plaque is a life-long part of good dental hygiene. Plaque can also lead to the development of cavities, which further weaken your teeth.
Plaque can begin forming on teeth four to 12 hours after brushing, which is why it is so important to brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Brushing teeth, although necessary, is not enough. Make sure to floss every day in order to get those hard-to-reach places between teeth to help prevent the buildup of plaque.
Tartar, also called calculus, is a crusty deposit that can trap stains on the teeth and cause discoloration. Calcium and phosphate bind to form crystals on the teeth. These calcium phosphate crystals eventually harden within plaque, forming calculus. Certain types of chemicals called pyrophosphates help to decrease calculus buildup by stopping the growth of crystals on the tooth surface and preventing new crystals from forming. Tartar creates a strong bond that can only be removed by a dental professional. Its formation may also make it more difficult to remove new plaque bacteria, thus potentially creating problems further down the road.
Dental Hygiene for Prevention
Plaque and tartar do not affect everyone in the same way; individuals vary greatly in their susceptibility and resistance. For many of us, these deposits build up faster as we age, meaning the older you get, the more closely you have to monitor your dental hygiene routine. There are, however, several ways in which you can alter your dental hygiene practices to help protect your teeth from the buildup of plaque and tartar.
- Having your teeth cleaned professionally every six months, or more frequently as recommended by your dentist or hygienist
- Brushing with a toothpaste that contains pyrophosphate, which adheres to the tooth surface and inhibits the formation or growth of calculus crystals