What are Plaque and Tartar?

Dental plaque is a colorless film made up of saliva, food and fluids, which when combined, produce deposits of bacteria that accumulate between the teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. If the plaque accumulates and is not removed, mineralization can occur, which causes staining and becomes tartar. Plaque is the leading cause of numerous oral health problems. The most effective way to get rid of dental plaque is by brushing it regularly.

Signs and symptoms

Everyone develops plaque because bacteria is constantly growing in the mouth. Plaque that is not completely removed in the gum line  can cause inflammation and irritation of the gums around the teeth, leading to gingivitis (red, swollen, bleeding gums).
Unlike plaque, tartar is an accumulation of minerals that is fairly easy to see, if it is above the gum line. The most common sign of tartar is a yellow or brown deposit between the lower front teeth or the gum line. The only way to eliminate tartar altogether is to see your dentist or dental hygienist for a professional cleaning.


Bacteria in the mouth thrive on many of the foods we eat daily – that is, sugars and carbohydrates – and produce acids that attack the surface of the tooth. If proper flossing and tooth brushing are not carried out efficiently every day, this leads to more plaque and tartar development. The tartar gives the plaque more surface area on which to grow and a much stickier surface to adhere to.
If it is not removed through proper daily oral hygiene, plaque accumulation occurs and can lead to bacterial infections, gums, teeth and even the bone that supports them.


It is easy to prevent plaque accumulation with proper care. Be sure that:

  • Brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes to completely remove plaque from teeth.
  • Floss as a supplement to brushing, to remove plaque deposited where the toothbrush does not reach.
  • Eating a balanced diet and brushing after a snack will help reduce plaque buildup.
  • Visit your dental professional every six months to receive annual cleanings and checkups.

When it comes to preventing plaque and dental plaque, a healthier mouth starts with good brushing habits. Once the tartar has formed, only your dentist or dental hygienist can remove it professionally.


Your dental professional removes the plaque by means of a deep cleansing method called scaling and smoothing of the roots. Scaling consists of removing tartar that has been deposited above and below the gum line. The root planning eliminates the rough areas that the root of the tooth may have where the germs accumulate. This helps to remove the bacteria that favor the disease. In some cases, a laser can be used to remove plaque and tartar.