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The Difference Between Plaque and Tartar

Plaque and tartar have an impact not only how your teeth look, but on your overall oral health. Our Burnaby discuss the differences between plaque and tartar, and what you can do to combat the effects of both.

How do plaque and tartar affect my teeth?

Having a healthy smile means more than having white, sparkly teeth. There are many things on your teeth and that are not easily detected at a glance but can have an impact on your oral health. Plaque and tartar have an impact not only on the appearance of your teeth but also on your overall oral health. No one is immune from plaque, but we do have the power to combat it as well as lessen the amount of tartar that builds up on our teeth.


Plaque is the soft, sticky, transparent film that forms on your teeth every day and adheres to the tooth surface and along the gum line. It is formed from bacteria, sugars and food debris.

Plaque can be removed with regular brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. If plaque is not removed every day, it may harden into tartar (also known as calculus). As well, plaque may cause cavities, gingivitis and is the start of gum disease.


Tartar, also known as calculus, is plaque that has not been removed from teeth and has now hardened onto the surface of the tooth. It is hard, non-sticky, visible and is yellow in colour. Tartar adheres to both the surface of the tooth, in between the teeth and even below the gum line. Tartar build-up is a very hard substance that creates a strong bond to the teeth and can only be removed by a dental professional through a process called scaling. As part of a good oral hygiene routine and to maintain healthy teeth and gums, it is necessary to remove tartar on a regular basis. If left it will lead to gingivitis and gum disease, cavities and even tooth loss.

The amount of plaque and tartar that builds up on people's teeth varies greatly. Some people are more prone to it and typically as we age tartar tends to build up faster.


As with all good oral health, it’s best to start with an at-home oral hygiene routine.

A good oral hygiene routine can be quite simple to follow. By taking a few minutes a day, you’re taking preventative measures that will help keep your teeth, gums and tongue in excellent health.

Some simple steps to follow:

  1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a tartar control toothpaste
  2. Floss your teeth at least once a day
  3. Rinse your mouth before bedtime with a mouthwash
  4. Visit your dentist every 6 months

If you feel that you are prone to plaque and tartar buildup, let your Burnaby Dentist at North Burnaby Dental Group know so they may make some additional recommendations to your oral health routine.

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