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What Causes Plaque and Tartar On Teeth? – Everything You Need to Know

13 Jun 2022

We’re all told from a young age that we need to take care of our teeth. Tooth decay is a problem that affects people of all ages, and it can lead to the loss of teeth, gum disease, and a range of other health problems and can even contribute to heart attacks.

The presence of plaque and tartar on your teeth can lead to tooth decay. Understanding how to prevent and remove these tooth-destroying substances is key to maintaining good oral health.

But what is the difference between plaque and tartar, and how can they be managed?

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about the causes of plaque and tartar on your teeth.

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky, colourless film that coats your teeth. Although you can’t see the plaque on your teeth, you may notice a fuzzy feeling. It’s made up of bacteria that feed on sugars and starches left in your mouth by food and drink.

Inside all of our mouths at any given time, you’ll find thousands of different types of bacteria. Not all types of bacteria are bad. In fact, some bacteria are not only harmless, but they’re also actually helpful. In the balanced ecosystem of our mouths, good bacteria can often combat the bad.

Of course, there are a few types of bacteria in our mouths that are harmful. For example, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, and Prevotella intermedia all cause bad breath and problems such as gingivitis.

One dangerous repeat offender of the bacteria world is Streptococcus mutans. This is the culprit responsible for tooth decay. When this bacteria starts to feed on the debris of sugary snacks or your last meal, it starts to create acid.

Next, the bacteria, the food debris, the acid, and your mouth’s saliva all create a sticky substance that clings to your teeth.

How Does Plaque Affect Your Teeth?

When left on your teeth, the acid in plaque starts to erode the enamel surface of your teeth. Despite the fact that enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, it’s no match to a constant barrage of plaque acid.

Eventually, the acid will break through the surface of your teeth. Caries, or tooth decay, occur and small holes appear in your tooth’s enamel. When this happens, you’ll experience toothache and sensitivity.

At this stage, these holes can be easily repaired with a filling. Although not the most enjoyable experience, getting a filling is a relatively straightforward procedure and much more favourable in comparison to later treatments if tooth decay progresses.

If you ignore the warning signs associated with caries, the decay will start to penetrate deep into your tooth. Eventually, it’ll extend down into the pulp chamber and root canals of your tooth where connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves all combine to form the dental pulp.

If your dental pulp becomes infected, you’ll need a root canal treatment to save your tooth. If we don’t catch this early enough, the best-case scenario becomes the loss of the tooth through extraction; however, complications such as bone loss in the jaw, abscess, and periodontitis are also a concern if necrosis occurs.

In extreme cases, dental infections caused by tooth decay can lead to life-threatening sepsis, stroke, and heart attack.

How Can You Remove or Prevent Plaque?

Fortunately, plaque is easily removed. The sticky substance that clings to your teeth can be removed through thorough cleaning. It’s recommended that you brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.

Brushing for two minutes at a time will ensure you’ve got a chance to get your brush onto every surface of every tooth in your mouth. Flossing will also help remove plaque from between your teeth.

Because bacteria feed on sugars and starches, it’s advisable to review your diet and limit your intake of sugary and starchy food and drinks.

Finally, book in to see us twice a year for a full dental checkup. Seeing us every six months will give us the opportunity to identify the early warning signs of tooth decay.

What Is Tartar?

Sometimes referred to as calculus, tartar is hardened plaque. This solidified form doesn’t just cover the visible portion of your tooth, it extends below the gum line, irritating and inflaming the gums.

While plaque is a colourless film and is hard to spot, tartar’s mineral deposits are visible and are either yellow or brown.

Just like plaque, untreated tartar will lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Not only this but because of the visible staining, it’s also an aesthetic concern for many people. As tartar is quite porous, it’ll also take on the colour of your tea, coffee, or tobacco.

How Do You Prevent Tartar From Building Up?

Prevention is always better than the cure, so it’s always best to stop tartar before it even forms. The simple solution is to get into good hygiene habits. As with the removal of plaque, brushing twice a day will go a long way to preventing tartar.

How Can You Remove Tartar?

Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed through brushing. In fact, it’s not something you’ll be able to remove without the help of a dental professional.

Tartar clings tightly to the surface of your teeth and requires scaling to remove it. Booking in for a scale and polish with a dental hygienist is one of the best ways to deal with tartar.

Don’t be tempted to try and scrape tartar off your teeth yourself. Not only is it likely that the results will be patchy, but there’s also a very high chance that you’ll seriously damage either your teeth or gums.

At Love Teeth, we’re here for every aspect of your dental care. Visit our hygienist and say goodbye to baked-on tartar, and call in and see us for a routine checkup and we’ll do everything we can to help keep your teeth in the best shape possible.

With Love Teeth clinics at Sutton, Stonecot, Chessington, and Cheam, it’s never been easier to access our services. Get in touch with us today to arrange your appointment.


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