Plaque vs. Tartar – What is the Difference?

Smiling blonde woman showing off her beautiful teeth.


Plaque, tartar… they’re terms you’ll hear being thrown around at the dentist. While you may mistakenly overlook them as two different names that mean the same thing – in reality, there are some pretty big differences between the two.

Despite how tough your teeth may be, leave plaque or tartar untreated and you’ll face some pretty serious consequences. That’s why it is so important to learn not only the difference between plaque and tartar but how to prevent and remove the buildup they create on your teeth.


First things first, what is plaque?

As clean as you think your teeth may be, the majority of us have plaque on our teeth. When food, saliva and bacteria mix together, you may find a soft, sticky film has built up on your teeth – this is plaque.

Building up on our teeth as we go about our day, plaque consists of various types of bacteria which metabolise sugars and transform them into acids. Far from the healthy mouth’s best friend, acids can wreak havoc on your teeth’s roots and enamel, laying the foundation for gum disease and tooth decay.

But it’s not all bad news – with good oral hygiene, you’ll be able to fend off most of these nasties and keep your mouth healthy.

To help keep plaque buildup at bay, it’s important to:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes – squeeze in a third brush if you have time!
  • Rinse your mouth out with a mouthwash
  • Make flossing part of your daily routine
  • Keep the consumption of anything sugary to a minimum (this will do wonders for your overall health!)
  • Drink water after all meals/snacks
  • Keep some gum in your bag (sugarfree, of course!)
  • Book in a visit to your dentist every 6 months for a checkup and a clean.


So then, what is tartar?

If plaque is left on your teeth for too long, this sticky film hardens into tartar. Also known as calculus, tartar is much trickier to remove than plaque. You’ll find it practically impossible to remove this yourself, so when you notice this build-up on your teeth it will be time to book an appointment with your dentist.

Causing more than just cavities, tartar can have some pretty serious consequences for your teeth. With the ability to cause increased tooth sensitivity, discolouration, gum recession and periodontal disease. If left untreated, your gums may loosen and your teeth could fall out.

However, with the right oral hygiene procedures in place, you can help keep your teeth healthy for life.

Similar to stopping plaque, to help battle tartar buildup it’s important to:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day for 2 minutes with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Make flossing part of your daily routine
  • Limit your consumption of sugary snacks
  • Book in a visit to your dentist every 6 months for a checkup and a professional clean.
  • Talk to your dentist about putting dental sealants on your teeth if you have reoccurring issues – these serve as a thin coating to help prevent cavities.


What are the key differences between plaque and tartar?

While both plaque and tartar can cause some pretty big problems for your teeth, they are both still quite different.

The buildup is different

  • As you eat and drink throughout the day, plaque accumulates pretty quickly, especially if you’ve eaten anything carb or sugar-heavy.
  • Tartar, on the other hand, grows when plaque is left for too long and hardens.

They look different

  • Plaque can be quite difficult to see due to it’s white, filmy appearance
  • Tartar is easily spotted due to its hard, yellow or brown appearance.

They feel different

  • Run your tongue over your teeth after you’ve eaten and if they feel a little furry – this is plaque!
  • If your tongue comes into contact with tartar it will feel rough.

The removal process is different

  • Want to remove your plaque? Just grab your toothbrush, toothpaste and a bit of floss at least twice a day.
  • A trip to the dentist for a professional clean is the only way to remove tartar.


At the end of the day, the formation of plaque and tartar on your teeth is pretty much inevitable, no matter how great your brushing skills are. At TLC Dental, we pride ourselves on our dedication to setting you up with a beautiful smile that is healthy for life. With our strong attention to detail, we ensure that each and every tooth is left in an immaculate condition when you leave your appointment.

Taking a preventative approach to dental cleaning, our team of hygienists will remove any built-up tartar and will apply a fluoride treatment to make your teeth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth.


Is it time for your 6-month checkup? Book a check-up and a routine clean with our hygienist at one of our five suburbs south of the river, including:

  • Winthrop
  • Bluegum
  • Mandurah
  • Chisham

Phone your local clinic above to book in for a check-up today!

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