Plaque and calculus / tartar
The definition for dental plaque is “a substance containing bacteria that forms on the surface of the teeth” (Cambridge Dictionary). Wait – bacteria in my mouth? Yes, bacteria are always present in your mouth, and that’s normal. What’s not great is when they come together and stick to your teeth (or bridges, implants, crowns, or orthodontic appliances). That’s why you should clean all tooth surfaces, including between teeth, thoroughly every day.
How does plaque form?
Right after you’re finished cleaning your teeth, the oral bacteria start attaching to the surface of the teeth. They gather primarily between teeth and along the gumline. Bacteria thrive on sugars and together with food deposits, they form a sticky mass called plaque. Sometimes the word biofilm is used to refer to plaque. Plaque forms constantly and needs to be removed every day.
Why does plaque need to be removed?
Reason 1: Tooth decay (caries)
When bacteria break down food deposits, in particular carbohydrates, they produce acids that attack the teeth. The acids dissolve the mineralized, hard tissues of the teeth. If this happens only a few times every day, the saliva has time to buffer and help build up the hard tissues. However, if the acid attacks occur frequently, the hard tissues will suffer a permanent breakdown and a cavity will form. Therefore, we should eat three main meals and two snacks a day and only drink water in-between. Snacking throughout the day, especially on carbohydrates, is a major risk factor for tooth decay.
Reason 2: Gum disease
Bacteria gather in groups, or colonies, on your teeth and oral tissues and of course they favour nooks and crannies that are more difficult for us to clean. It’s important we disrupt the bacteria every day since they release substances that irritate the gums which react by becoming inflamed. This inflammation is called gingivitis. The gums become swollen, red, and can bleed easily when cleaned. If bacteria are not removed and the inflammation can progress, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, where the bone surrounding the tooth starts breaking down and the tooth loses part of its attachment. Over time, the teeth can become loose. Hence the importance of proper plaque removal!
Reason 3: Buildup of calculus / tartar
If plaque is allowed to grow and isn’t removed properly, it can harden, calcify, into calculus. The rate of the buildup depends on the saliva flow and content, what you eat, medications and how well you clean your teeth. The rough surface of calculus makes it an ideal surface for more bacteria to stick to. Calculus often forms along the gumline and in particular on the inside surfaces of the lower front teeth. Calculus cannot be removed by brushing but needs to be removed by a dental professional. It can be prevented by daily removal of plaque.
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TePe Interdental brushes
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Other products for daily basic oral care
Frequently asked questions
What does plaque look like?
Plaque can be difficult to see because of the similarity in colour to teeth; it’s whitish to pale yellow. Your tongue can help you in detecting plaque. Run your tongue over your teeth – if it’s all smooth, your teeth are probably quite clean. If it feels a bit fuzzy and sticky, you want to spend a couple of minutes with your toothbrush.
What is the difference between plaque and calculus/tartar?
Plaque is soft and can be removed by toothbrushing and cleaning between teeth. Calculus/tartar is calcified plaque and needs to be removed by a dental professional with the help of manual and/or ultrasonic instruments.