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Plaque, calculus, tartar..what does it all mean?

Posted on 01/22/2018

While you're in the dental chair, you may hear your dental hygienist use the terms such as plaque, calculus and tartar...but what does that all mean?

1.Plaque is the sticky film that coats your teeth that you often feel after not brushing for a while or after eating sugary foods. It is made up of bacteria and some food remnants. Bacterial plaque is harmful for the teeth and gums if it is not removed regularly and thoroughly. Plaque can be removed effectively with tools such as a toothbrush, waterpik, and/or floss. So why is it so important that we remove plaque? Bacterial plaque can cause cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Another important note to make is that when plaque is not removed in a timely manner, the minerals from our saliva actually cause the plaque to calcify and turn into calculus.

2. Calculus (tarter) is essentially hardened plaque. This substance is basically like concrete on the tooth and it cannot be removed by brushing.  Your dental hygienist must help you remove calculus from your teeth.

So why is it important to remove calculus (tarter) deposits? This hardened buildup on the tooth, and sometimes on the root surface, can cause recession, gum irritation and in some cases bone loss disease. It is the bodies reaction to this irritant that causes it to over react and cause bone loss. Think of it like a splinter under the gum line: remove the irritant and the gums can start to heal. 

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