How Plaque and Tartar Differ and How Each Affects Your Teeth

The Differences Between Plaque and Tartar

How Plaque and Tartar Differ and How Each Affects Your Teeth and Gums

Plaque and tartar are related but they are not the same thing. You can still develop either with good oral hygiene, but the better you take care of your teeth and gums, the less chance you will have for periodontal disease and other dental problems.


Plaque on your teeth comes from the bacteria in the food you eat and liquids you drink. When you go for hours without brushing your teeth, like when you’re sleeping, you might feel like something rough and filmy is on your teeth when you wake up. There is something there and that something is plaque. Too much plaque can contribute to cavities, bad breath, and infected gums.

Some things that can contribute to the growth of plaque on your teeth include some medications, breathing through your mouth, and smoking. The longer you go between teeth cleanings, the worse your plaque will get. It can go down under your gums and form tartar. The best way to keep plaque to a minimum is to brush and floss your teeth as directed by your dentist and try to have the best oral hygiene you can.


Tartar is caused by a buildup of plaque on your teeth and often down below the gum level. Tartar is plaque that has been in your mouth long enough to harden. This makes it very difficult to remove and requires the hygienist to use special tools to remove it. These tools are sharp and pointed, but the hygienist is trained to use them carefully to do the job. Plaque and tartar, alone or together, can be a major cause of bleeding gums.

Root Planing and Scaling

Part of good oral hygiene in older patients is to undergo scaling and root planing. They are similar methods of cleaning up plaque and tartar but the depth at which they clean is different. Scaling your teeth is when the hygienist scrapes buildup off of your teeth above your gum line. If plaque and tartar are not too extensive, it might be able to be done in one visit. It is not uncommon, though, to have the procedure done in multiple visits.

Root planing goes down past the gum line to clean the plaque and tartar that has likely been there for decades. Root planing and scaling are major steps in the fight against periodontal disease. If you already have gum disease, these procedures can help to reverse it and get you back on track to have a healthy mouth.

Patients who have diabetes often suffer from dry mouth which can contribute to plaque, tartar, and periodontal disease. If you do have diabetes, it is very important to discuss your oral hygiene habits with your dentist to help maintain your overall health.

Call us today at o2 Dental in Vancouver to set up an appointment with our lead dentist. Removing plaque and tartar from your teeth can help save you a lifetime of dental problems.