Understanding How Plaque and Tartar Damage Your Teeth

misc image

The pursuit of a bright smile and healthy mouth is a marathon rather than a sprint. Success against plaque and tartar buildup requires daily brushing and flossing as a foundation of care. However, even when your daily routine meets the necessary standard, plaque still accumulates in hard-to-reach locations. Periodic dental cleanings seek out these trouble spots and clear away sticky plaque and its solid version, called tartar. 

Dental cleanings with the team at Volterra Dental keep you ahead of plaque and tartar, in turn keeping your teeth and gums healthy. Understanding the plaque-to-tartar cycle helps to stay ahead of the oral hygiene battle. Here’s what you need to know. 

Plaque - a fundamental biofilm

Bacteria make up some of the 700 microscopic species living in your mouth at any given time. That’s normal and no cause for concern in itself, but those bacteria start the plaque formation process in combination with the foods you eat. 

Chewing starts the digestion process by breaking down foods, releasing carbohydrates from many of them, even healthy items like fresh fruit and vegetables. Refined sugars are loaded with carbs and they can increase your rate of plaque formation. 

The remaining ingredients in the plaque recipe include non-carb food particles and saliva. Along with bacteria and carbs, they combine to form the sticky yellow biofilm called plaque. Acidic in nature, plaque forms a protective environment for bacteria. Since it adheres easily to tooth enamel, its constant formation requires daily care in the form of brushing and flossing. 

Tartar - the next step

Once plaque builds up on your teeth, it starts a process called calcification as it absorbs minerals from your saliva. When plaque becomes hard as a result of calcification it becomes tartar. Unlike plaque, tartar can’t be brushed or flossed away. 

Adding insult to injury, tartar buildup attracts more plaque, increasing the surface area that the soft, sticky substance adheres to, which in turn increases the amount of tartar forming over time. Since the calcification process takes only one to three days, tartar may form faster than you expect. 

Tartar is darker than plaque and it causes symptoms like bad breath and gum irritation while the low pH conditions in your mouth can wear away tooth enamel. 

The role of dental cleanings

In general, plaque is the target for your home care efforts. Tartar bonds more tightly to tooth surfaces, so brushes and floss have little to no effect. It’s the target of dental procedures using specialized instruments to scrape it away. You know this as dental cleaning. 

While you may see dental care products promising tartar control, these are, in fact, plaque control products, targeting the softer substance before it hardens. Tartar control products will not soften or remove calcified tartar. 

Avoiding the damage caused by plaque and tartar isn’t a mystery. It takes a partnership between your daily brushing and flossing efforts and dental checkups with us every six months to monitor the tartar buildup that forms in hard-to-reach locations. 

Make an appointment with the team at Volterra Dental by calling the office or booking online. If you can’t recall your last cleaning, it’s time to get caught up so schedule your visit today.