What Are Plaque and Tartar and Why Are They So Dangerous?


You know regular brushing, flossing, and semi-annual dental checkups are necessary to prevent dental plaque and tartar, but what exactly are those things? You know they’re bad, but you want the specifics. We understand completely, and that’s why our Fuquay Varina dentist is breaking down what plaque and tartar are, why they’re bad, and how you can prevent them.

What Are Plaque and Tartar?

First, let’s get a clear definition and description of what these substances are.


Plaque is a clear or yellowish, thin, sticky coating on your teeth made of saliva, food, and beverage particles. It’s what causes the fuzzy feeling on your teeth when you wake up in the morning. Scientists call it a biofilm because it’s a community of microbes that are basically held together in a sticky substances, allowing it to adhere to teeth where a colony of bacteria can grow.


Tartar is also called dental calculus (no relation to the math subject), and it forms when minerals in saliva react with plaque and causes the sticky material to harden onto the surface of tooth enamel. Tartar often builds up at the base of the tooth and just under the gumline, and its rough surface is ideal for additional plaque formation because it has a larger surface area and is easier to cling to.

Problems Caused By Plaque and Tartar

If not promptly removed, bacteria in plaque will continue to grow and thrive, producing acids that attack dental enamel and eat through that surface, creating cavities. The bacteria also can attack delicate gum tissue and cause inflammation. Additionally, as we mentioned, unchecked plaque will turn into tartar.

Once the plaque hardens into tartar, you’re not only at a higher likelihood for cavities, you increase your risk of gingivitis and periodontitis. Tartar will irritate and inflame the gum tissue and cause the connective tissues that hold the gum to the tooth to erode. This is gingivitis, and signs include red, swollen gums, and bleeding when you floss. Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis becomes more severe, and inflammation worsens and infection forms. The tooth pulls away from the gum, and you may experience dental abscess, pain, and even tooth loss.

Preventing and Removing Dental Plaque and Tartar

The good news is that proper dental hygiene will prevent many of the complications caused by plaque and tartar. Plaque begins forming within a few hours of brushing, so if you brush two to three times a day, floss once, and drink water through the day to keep your teeth rinsed, you’ll minimize the ability for plaque to build up and keep tartar and cavities from forming.

Once tartar builds up, it becomes a bit more complicated. Really, only your Fuquay Varina dentist or dental hygienist can remove dental calculus safely and effectively using a special planing tool. This is why regular visits to your dentist are so crucial to your overall oral health.

Schedule a Checkup with Our Fuquay Varina Dentist Today

Now that you know what plaque and tartar are, you can more effectively guard yourself against them, and we can help. If you’re due for a checkup or would like to become a patient at our family dental center, reach out to us today at (919) 552-2431 or schedule an appointment online.