Plaque and Tartar: What are the signs and how to remove them

Plaque vs Tartar: What are the Major Differences?


Your teeth need extra care and attention as they are highly susceptible to an array of dental issues. You need to guard your teeth against cavities, plaque, tartar, and let’s not forget tooth decay. Your teeth are covered in enamel, which is the hardest substance in your body. However, if you aren’t careful about your teeth and let plaque buildup on them and harden, you might eventually develop tartar.

There are instances when tartar progresses and causes gum disease, thereby affecting your overall dental health. It’s common to confuse one for the other, which is why it’s vital to understand the difference between plaque and tartar. When you learn more about plaque vs tartar, it becomes easier for you to identify the condition and undertake appropriate measures.

What is Plaque?

Everyone has plaque on their teeth. It is a slimy, soft film that builds upon the teeth once the bacteria mixes with the saliva and food. This plaque contains more than 500 species of bacteria, some good for your teeth, while others prove quite detrimental. When you eat or drink sugary stuff, the bacteria tend to produce acid that attacks the enamel of your teeth and causes dental and overall health issues.

What is tartar?

When you do not remove plaque from your teeth, it forms a crusty, hard deposit that tends to trap stains and causes discoloration. Tartar, also known as calculus, occurs when the residual plaque on the surface of the tooth reacts with the minerals in the saliva. So, tartar coats the exterior of your teeth, and since it can spread below the gum line, a dentist will have to remove it to prevent periodontal disease.

To understand plaque and tartar better, let’s look at the major differences.

Plaque vs Tartar: key differences



Plaque appears as a fuzzy film over your teeth and is generally colorless.

Tartar feels rough and is yellow or brown in color

Plaque tends to build up on your teeth throughout the day after drinking or eating.

When you do not remove plaque from your teeth by brushing or flossing, it hardens over time to cause tartar.

Plaque can be removed with regular brushing and flossing. You can also remove plaque with regular dental appointments and dental scaling.

You cannot remove tartar on your own. Since it has hardened, you can end up damaging your teeth if you try to scratch it off. You’ll need professional help to remove tartar.

What Causes Dental Plaque and Tartar?

The biggest reason for dental plaque and tartar are to form is poor oral hygiene. When we eat certain foods, which are rich in sugar and starch, it feeds the bacteria present in the mouth and it accelerates the formation of plaque- especially if you don't brush well after. Here are other causes of dental plaque:

  • Dry mouth due to dehydration or certain medications

  • Habit of smoking

  • Consume too much sugar

  • History of neck or head radiation

What are the Symptoms of Plaque and Tartar?

A simple indicator of plaque is a fuzzy feeling on the teeth. Along with that, here are signs you should look out for:

  • Bad breath, sometimes chronic

  • Swollen and tender gums that bleed after brushing

  • Can be accompanied by cavities, decay, and other tooth and gum diseases like gingivitis

If plaque has already turned into tartar, here are the symptoms:

  • Possible tooth abscess

  • Chronic halitosis

  • Teeth discolorations - yellow, brown, or black stains on the surface of the teeth

  • Gum inflammation

What's the Treatment for Plaque and Tartar?

Good oral care routine is your absolute best measure against plaque and tartar formation. However, if it is severe then there are some treatments available for removing plaque from teeth you can consult your dentist for:

  1. Fluoride treatments to stop tooth decay and slow down the bacteria

  2. Medications to counteract dry mouth and increase saliva production

  3. Antibacterial, dental-approved mouthwash

  4. Dental sealants to prevent plaque formation

Plaque removal at home

Now that you are aware of the difference between plaque and tartar, let’s look at effective plaque removal techniques to prevent further dental problems in future.

  • Since plaque accumulates between the teeth and gums, you need to be regular with your brushing and flossing activities. You can try Oral-B 100 White Criss Cross Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush, as it offers superior cleaning than a regular manual toothbrush. The cross action of the toothbrush bristles surrounds the teeth at a 16-degree angle for better reach, and the 2D cleaning of the brush head oscillates and rotates for more plaque removal. Also, it v

  • For flossing, you can try Oral-B Essential Mint Dental Floss. Its light wax coating and shred-resistant texture ensure that it glides between your teeth and gets rid of the plaque that’s hard to get to.

  • If you are already dealing with gum disease, the gum swelling creates pockets for the plaque to collect. In such cases, you must go to your dentist for plaque removal and opt for dental scaling as it removes plaque beneath the gums, or else it can lead to inflammation or harder into tartar.

  • Consider using toothpaste with fluoride as it can reduce dental problems that arise from bacteria and plaque. Also, cutting back on sugary foods would be a good idea as the plaque-causing bacteria feeds on sugar.

How to prevent tartar buildup

Tartar removal requires you to go to the dentist as you cannot do it on your own. However, there are certain steps you can undertake to prevent tartar buildup rather than remove tartar from your teeth. Here’s what you can do:

  • Brush twice a day and floss regularly: You must be regular when it comes to brushing your teeth twice a day. You can also try the Oral-B iO 8 Ultimate Clean Electric Toothbrush. It comes with six Smart Modes that help personalize your brushing, and its Artificial Intelligence identifies your brushing style and guides you to cover all the teeth so that you don’t miss a spot. Moreover, this electric toothbrush combines the unique round brush head from Oral-B with gentle micro-vibrations for a fresh, clean mouthfeel and healthier gums. Also, don’t forget to floss your teeth. You can use Oral-B Essential Mint Floss, as it glides easily through your teeth and cleans hard-to-reach plaque.

  • Watch your diet: Ensure that you limit the consumption of sugary snacks and beverages to prevent plaque and tartar buildup. But, if you do, do not forget to brush, and floss your teeth immediately.

  • Don’t miss your dentist appointments: Since you cannot try tartar removal on your own, ensure that you keep your dentist appointments. Opt for a dental cleaning and aim for a checkup every six months.

  • Consider dental sealants: Dental sealants protect your teeth against cavities and protect your molars from tooth decay.2

Now that you know about plaque vs tartar, and what causes these conditions, consider seeking immediate treatment to prevent the destruction of your tooth enamel and the risk of gum disease. You can follow these preventive measures and keep plaque and tartar at bay with Oral-B’s advanced dental products.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which is a more serious condition- plaque or tartar?

    Plaque is a colorless film of bacteria that forms on your teeth after you eat sugary foods, while tartar is a mineral buildup that can be seen easily if it’s above the gum line. While plaque can be easily removed, tartar is harder in nature and needs to be removed by your dentist.

  2. Is it advisable to scrape off the tartar from the teeth?

    While there are plaque scrapers available in stores, it is not advisable to use those to scrape off the tartar from your teeth. It can damage your teeth, and since the blades are sharp, they can damage your delicate gums if you don’t know how to use them

  3. How long does it take for plaque to turn into tartar?

    Tartar is plaque that hardens if you don’t remove it by brushing or flossing regularly. Tartar builds up on the gum line and becomes visible on the front and back of the teeth. It takes about 24 to 72 hours for the accumulated dental plaque to harden into tartar.