How Does Plaque and Tartar Affect Your Smile?

Posted: February 5, 2019 By: Comment: 0

A woman patient that is speaking with a dental professional as she sits in a dental chair.

If you look in the mirror at your teeth, you may wonder what that clear substance is around your gum line. That sticky, clear film is known as plaque, and it’s the substance that leads to tooth decay, gum disease and oral health problems. Tartar is the hard, stuck-on form of plaque that is very difficult to remove without the help of a dentist. Find out how plaque and tartar affect your smile and how to keep the teeth free of both!


Mouth Bacteria

Studies have found between 500 and 700 different types of bacteria in the human mouth. However, most people only have between 30 and 34 different types in their mouth on a regular basis, and not all of those are bad. In fact, bacteria is needed to help break down and digest the food you eat each day.


Not all of that bacteria gets washed away with your food, nor does it only help in digestion. Some, instead, lead directly to tooth decay. When you eat, sugars in your foods and drinks will mix with mouth bacteria to create a sticky, clear film. The combination of sugars, food particles and mouth bacteria make the substance—called “plaque”—acidic. Studies report that food that’s not washed away with swallowing and even from brushing will stick to your teeth almost immediately. This is because the bacteria is recolonizing and the acids in your plaque is working at breaking up minerals in your teeth.


A close-up view of a patient's mouth that has plaque and lots of tartar on the back of their teeth. The "after" image is on the right showing what the smile looks like after dental treatment.

Plaque and Your Mouth

There is an estimated 10 trillion—and yes we said “trillion”—bacteria per milligram of plaque. That’s an awful lot of bacteria working to hurt your teeth. And they will if you’re not taking care of your oral health through frequent brushing and flossing. If you brush and floss away the plaque that collects in your mouth, you significantly reduce your risk for oral health problems. The recommendation by the American Dental Association is to brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes at a time. Then, you should floss 1-2 times a day as well to get the 40% of tooth surfaces that brushing often misses. Add in mouthwash to kill extra mouth bacteria that would cause your mouth decay and fluoride toothpaste or treatments to build a stronger barrier between your teeth and bacteria.


What Is Tartar?

If you don’t brush and floss, you can experience tooth decay and even gum disease. Tooth decay happens when plaque breaks up minerals in your teeth enough to decay them. This happens when plaque stays on the teeth for too long. Often, that decay is not even visible until it has become severe for the tooth to turn color. The goal is to brush your teeth several times a day so that your teeth never decay. That will also help prevent gum disease, which is the best friend of tooth decay.


Because plaque is acidic and it sits along your gum line, it irritates the gums. They start to bleed easy, become darker red, inflamed and even swollen. Eventually they will pull back from the teeth to get away from plaque. This gum recession can happen so much that the gums aren’t supporting the teeth, so they fall out. That is the full-blown gum disease stage. You notice the first stage with bleeding or red gums, and that’s when you want to hit your oral hygiene hard.


Plaque can actually change states on your teeth as well, which is common with people that have gum disease. It can become hard, brownish or yellow on your teeth. This is when plaque becomes tartar, and it is quite hard to remove on your own. Tartar forms when plaque is left on the teeth. It can then mix with certain minerals when you eat and drink, and the mixture will makes some of the leftover plaque hard. It can bond to your teeth like cement, becoming a mineral deposit.

A young adult, attractive male that is flossing his teeth.

Treatment for Tartar Buildup and Gum Disease

Once tartar forms on your teeth, you really can’t remove it yourself. You need the help of a dentist or that tartar can continue to build up until it covers your whole tooth. Only higher-powered dental tools can get that mineral deposit off your teeth. Because tartar is a form of plaque, you will likely have some decay and signs of gum disease under that tartar. Inflammation and decay will continue to happen under the surface of tartar, which is why you want to get it taken care of.


We can remove plaque and tartar buildup at your biannual dental cleaning and comprehensive exam. If you have severe plaque and tartar, you may need a separate appointment so we can fully clean your teeth. Removing tartar in-office is much better than dealing with gum disease at home. Full-blown gum disease may involve more lengthy dental services, but we can definitely help patients with this condition. However, prevention is always key. Simply brush and floss your teeth well each day to keep a healthy mouth!


Get a Healthier Mouth Today

Having a healthy mouth, and one that is free of plaque and tartar is fairly simple: brush and floss your teeth and reduce your sugar intake. Doing these three things can help your oral health significantly. It can even extend the years you have your natural teeth. As we mentioned, tooth decay and gum disease are some of the most chronic problems Americans face. Knowing that, it’s okay to not be perfect with your oral health. However, it’s always great to try each day to be a bit better. Incorporate the oral health suggestions we’ve mentioned and see how your oral health improves. To know how the health of your teeth and gums is doing, make sure you schedule your comprehensive dental exam by calling Dr. Ania’s office at 303-443-0998!



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