Plaque Vs Tartar: What Is The Difference?

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in our body and is more rigid than bone. But that doesn’t mean you must care for your teeth any less than the rest of the body. Dental problems like plaque and tartar, if left unchecked, can damage your teeth and lead to more complex problems with your gums.

How do I know if I have plaque or tartar? Is there any difference between plaque and tartar? How do I treat plaque or tartar? To find out, read on.

Plaque: What Is It?

Plaque is a sticky, colorless layer of bacteria that accumulates in your teeth every day. It gives your teeth a slippery, uneven coating when you feel it with your tongue, and it is most noticeable when you wake up before you brush your teeth.

Scientists refer to dental plaque as a diverse community of microorganisms. It contains over 500 varieties of bacteria, which come together and form a biofilm on your teeth.

Biofilm protects the bacteria, keeps them together, and makes them stronger and more resistant. This biofilm attaches to the tooth surface, forming a soft and sticky layer on your teeth, often white or yellow.

The gluey nature of plaque attracts more microbes enabling them to grow into flourishing microcolonies. Plaque builds and thickens as bacteria interact with saliva and the food stuck in your mouth, producing acids.

The chance of this increases when you consume sugary, carbohydrate-rich food. These acids are so strong that they can destroy the hard enamel of your teeth.

Dental plaque is also closely linked to cavities and periodontal diseases- two of the most prevailing dental problems affecting people.

Although dental plaque develops naturally in your teeth, it can cause severe issues in your mouth if left untreated.

Tartar: What Is It?

Untreated plaque creates tartar. If the plaque on your teeth is not removed, it can toughen and turn into tartar. Plaque traps the calcium and other minerals from your saliva and hardens it, causing tartar. It is also referred to as calculus.

Like plaque, tartar can coat your teeth and settle into your gums. But the problems caused by them are even harder to deal with. Tartar can cause discoloration of teeth, tooth sensitivity, gum recession, and so on.

How Long Before Plaque Turns Into Tartar?

If you wonder how long it takes for plaque to turn into tartar, the answer is: surprisingly fast! If plaque sits around in your mouth for as long as 48 hours, there are chances that it is already turning into tartar. The average timeline for plaque to turn into tartar is 48-72 hours. 

What Happens If Plaque Or Tartar Is Not Removed?

Both plaque and tartar can increase the risk of gum diseases like periodontist and gingivitis. Unmitigated plaque and tartar can cause inflammation in your gum tissues, making them tender or swollen, and it can trigger bleeding, redness, and soreness. Gaps can develop between the tooth and gums.

How Do I Know if I Have Plaque or Tartar?

Although tartar is a hardened version of plaque, there are some critical differences between plaque and tartar.

  • The plaque looks clear or pale yellow. The tartar looks yellow or brown.
  • Plaque is softer and fuzzier in appearance and touch, and tartar feels harder and rougher.
  • Plaque can be removed and maintained through brushing. Removing tartar requires professional cleaning from a dentist.

Plaque and Tartar: Risk Factors

Teeth can get damaged within months of accumulating tartar. So, recognizing the build-up and acting upon it quickly is always better. There is growing research exploring the connection between the plaque in your teeth and the plaque in your heart. The plaque in your heart comprises cholesterol deposits, fatty substances, cellular waste, fibrin, and calcium in the blood.

The common link between the two could be inflammation, and periodontal diseases increase the body’s inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation in the body contributes to heart diseases, where plaque builds up in the arteries.

It can also trigger other inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, dementia at later stages in life, or premature birth in pregnant women.

Plaque and Tartar: Diagnosis

Some visible signs of plaque on the teeth are:

  • Bad breath
  • Noticeable film on the teeth
  • Noticeable discoloration on the teeth
  • The appearance of a sticky or slimy substance on your floss that is white or yellow
  • Bleeding gums that are tender and sore

Plaque and Tartar: Contributing Factors

Good oral hygiene

You can control plaque simply by maintaining good oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing every day, and rinsing your mouth after eating are best practices to follow as a routine.

Dental appointments

In addition, regular dental appointments can keep plaque at bay. Sometimes plaque may accumulate beneath the teeth, near the gum line, and it is easy to miss it. It is when dental cleaning and scaling come in handy, and these can eliminate plaque from overlooked places.

Diet and lifestyle

Excessive consumption of sugary food can contribute to plaque formation. Stress can also contribute to this, and too stress activates inflammation at the cellular level. Other lifestyle choices like smoking can increase the risk.

Dental appliances

Wearing braces and retainers also could heighten your risk of plaque development because they make brushing your teeth and flossing more tedious.


Finally, genetic predisposition could also be critical in determining whether you will develop these dental problems. Crooked teeth and crowding can also increase the risk of plaque development.

Plaque and Tartar: Prevention

Here are some tips to help you prevent plaque

  • Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily for at least 2 minutes. Switching to an electric toothbrush may be a good option. The speed of the brush head may be better at removing plaque than manually brushing.
  • Flossing every day helps expel trapped food particles and cleans the gums too.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and protein. Limit your intake of sugary food. Brush or rinse your mouth thoroughly if you can’t brush.
  • Go for regular dental checkups- once in 6 months is ideal. Get teeth cleaning or dental scaling done. Talk to your dentist about using dental sealants. It is a coating designed to protect your teeth from cavities.

Bottom Line

Taking care of your teeth doesn’t have to be complicated, and prevention is always better than cure. So, focus on keeping plaque at bay by following the tips.

Plaque Vs Tartar: What Is The Difference?