Plaque and Tartar

When the Yuba City Dentistry Group discusses plaque with you, we’re likely not talking about some ornamental tablet meant to commemorate a person or event — although we might display one or two. And when we discuss tartar, we’re probably not talking about the tasty sauce that goes with fish and chips. Nevertheless, the words plaque and tartar frequently get brought up in conversation at a dentist’s office. So, what are plaque and tartar in dentistry, and does anything need to be done about them?

What is Plaque?

Ongoing studies have identified over seven hundred different strains of bacteria that show up in the human mouth, but most people are host to about thirty to seventy varieties at any given time. Some of those bacteria consume the food residue in our gum pockets and between our teeth, producing a sticky, soft film that builds up on our tooth enamel. That film is called plaque.

Plaque houses the bacteria that produces it. That’s why it’s called a biofilm. As the plaque spreads, so too does bacteria within. Along with the plaque, these bacteria produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel, eventually creating holes known as caries, or cavities. Those acids won’t stop eating away at your teeth until you have no teeth left! Not only that, but when enough plaque builds up along the gumline, it irritates the gums and leads to gingivitis, the beginnings of serious gum disease.

Fighting Plaque Buildup

The best defense against plaque buildup is brushing for two minutes, twice a day. Plaque is easily dislodged with a soft-bristled toothbrush, along with a dentist-approved toothpaste. However, even the best toothbrush can’t get into all the spaces between your teeth and gums. Supplement your tooth brushing with flossing between your teeth, removing plaque and bacteria buildup from in between teeth and near the gumline. Swishing around a proper dose of mouthwash can also help dislocate plaque, but it doesn’t work very well by itself. That’s why brushing and flossing is so important.

What is Tartar?

If you avoid regularly brushing the plaque away, it stays put. Constant exposure to calcium and other elements in your saliva turns the plaque into a hard residue latched strongly onto your teeth. Usually brown or dull yellow in color, it typically shows the most along the lower front teeth. This hard substance is called tartar or calculus. Its rough nature irritates gums significantly more than the soft, sticky plaque, and hastens the appearance of both gum disease and bad breath. If you can see it on your teeth, odds are it’s beneath your gums as well. And bacteria thrive in and around tartar!

Removing Dental Tartar

Have you ever tried removing barnacles off the hull of a boat? You need special tools to get the job done right, and special skills to ensure there’s no further damage done to the boat during the process. The same is true with removing tartar. Although it’s not as intensive or grueling as removing barnacles, it takes special tools and special skills to do it properly without causing damage to the enamel. Thankfully, the Yuba City Dentistry Group has those tools and skills, and we keep up to date with all the latest techniques.

Keep Up the Good Work

Of course, the best way to make sure you don’t suffer from tartar buildup is to avoid plaque buildup, and the best way to do that is a daily routine of oral hygiene. So, keep brushing twice a day, along with flossing. And don’t forget to come in to see us twice a year for your routine checkup and cleaning. The Yuba City Dentistry Group will remove any plaque or tartar that sneaks in where you can’t get to it. If you haven’t already, give us a call to schedule an appointment, or use the online request form here on our website.


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I’ve been going to YC Dentistry since 1998 and have experienced nothing but friendliness, caring and expertise with the entire personnel. Dr. Cheema is the best!