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How Different Are Plaque & Tartar?
Graphical illustration of the process of cleaning yellow stained teeth with dental tools

How Different Are Plaque & Tartar?

Many dentists face one common question, "Are plaque and tartar the same?" No, they are not. Although there is a difference between the two, it is important to know that both are detrimental to oral health. So, without any further delay, let's get to know about dental plaque and tartar in detail.

What is Dental Plaque?

Dental plaque is common to everyone. Every time you pop in starchy or sugary foods in your mouth, the oral bacteria act on the leftover food particles and forms plaque.

The good thing about dental plaque is that it can easily be removed by simple brushing twice a day. When you fail to do that, it comfortably deposits on your teeth. Over time, the accumulated plaque will eat away at the enamel, the protective covering on your teeth, and cause cavities. According to the American Dental Association, dental plaque harbours more than 500 species of good and bad bacteria.

What is Tartar?

Dental Tartar is evidence of very bad oral hygiene. When you do not follow the oral hygiene protocol of brushing and flossing every day, the accumulated plaque hardens into Tartar or Calculus. Tartar is more destructive than plaque. It can cause:

  • Tooth discolouration
  • Gum recession
  • Cavities
  • Tooth loss.

Tartar Vs Plaque: The Key Differences & Symptoms

Plaque and tartar have some distinctive differences, which clearly explains they are not the same. Some key differences are:

  • The buildup process

Plaque builds up throughout the day, especially if you eat sugary and starchy foods. The accumulation of plaque over a considerable period leads to tartar. Hence, there is no tartar without plaque. In other words, if you brush twice every day, there is no chance of plaque or tartar.

  • The appearance

Plaque is generally colourless or pale yellow. It is a thin, sticky deposit that feels fuzzy when you rub your tongue across your teeth. Tartar, however, is rougher on the teeth and quite visible with a yellow-brownish tinge.

  • The causative factors

Plaque also occurs due to medication, smoking, dry mouth, hormonal surges, and a prolonged neck and head radiation history.

    • The removal process

Plaque is easily removable. All you need to do is brush twice and floss once every single day. Tartar, on the other hand, is tougher and won't budge as easily. It can only be removed by professional teeth cleaning methods.

Now that we've seen the differences let us learn about the symptoms of these dental health problems.

What Are The Symptoms?

Dental plaque symptoms include:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Swollen, tender gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Fuzzy feeling on the teeth
  • Dental decay  or cavities

When plaque progresses to tartar, it will manifest itself as:

  • Tooth abscesses
  • Dark stains on the surface of the teeth
  • Red, swollen, and bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Hard deposits on the teeth
  • Inflammed gumline

Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention Of Plaque & Tartar


Your dentist can easily diagnose both plaque and tartar by examining your mouth and gums. They may ask you about your medical history, medication intake, food habits, and other general habits like smoking and tobacco usage. They may also recommend a dental x-ray to check for cavities, tooth abscesses, and common telltale signs of plaque or tartar.


Dental plaque and tartar require different treatments. The cardinal rule to prevent plaque is to diligently follow a proper oral hygiene protocol for life. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and mouthwash to rinse off food particles in the mouth will keep plaque at bay.

However, to treat tartar, you need professional help because it is not easily removable like plaque. Left untreated, tartar can lead to a severe form of gum disease called Periodontitis, resulting in permanent tooth loss.

If plaque and tartar formation is severe, your dentist will recommend the following treatment methods:

  • Use of electric toothbrushes to clear plaque
  • Medication to curb dry mouth and increase saliva production
  • Fluoride treatments to slow down tooth decay
  • Dental sealants to prevent plaque formation
  • Scaling and root planing to remove hardened plaque or tartar


Preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar is wiser and easier than treating them and tolerating symptoms like bad breath and tooth loss. Dentists worldwide recommend the following steps for preventing both plaque and tartar:

  • Brushing and flossing every day
  • Having dental checkups
  • Chewing sugarless gum
  • Limiting sugary snacks and beverages
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking foods rich in Vitamin C

The bottom line

If you have signs and symptoms of plaque or tartar, you should immediately consult a good dentist. 4 Squares Dentistry Chennai, provides the best dental care in Gowrivakkam and Medavakkam for all kinds of dental health issues. Want to have a professional dental cleaning to retain your sparkly white teeth? Fix an appointment with our dentists in Medavakkam or Gowrivakkam today!

Also Read: Bleeding Gums And Periodontal Health – Explained By Dentists From Best Dental Clinic In Chennai