What Is the Difference Between Plaque and Calculus?

Woman smiling while looking in a mirror at the dentist office
Dental calculus can only be effectively removed during dental visits. Call for an appointment.

Plaque and calculus are two terms you will almost certainly encounter when talking about oral health and general dentistry. Despite the fact that they both relate to bacteria growth on teeth, using the two terms interchangeably isn’t quite accurate.

So, what is the difference between plaque and calculus? Here’s all you need to know.

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a colorless film of bacteria and sugars that constantly forms on your teeth. While you cannot see plaque with the naked eye, you can feel significant build-up by running your tongue across the surface of your teeth. You can feel it due to its sticky properties.

Small amounts of plaque build-up over the course of a few hours is nothing to worry about. However, plaque does grow very quickly and produces enough acid over time that it can be quite harmful. This is the number one cause of cavities and gum disease (including gingivitis), periodontal disease, and tooth loss.

The irritations caused by acidic bacteria can lead to inflammation and swelling. This can ultimately lead to the conditions stated above. Therefore, maintaining control over plaque is absolutely crucial.

What Is Calculus?

Calculus, also known as tartar, is a hardened plaque. When plaque isn’t effectively removed during your oral hygiene routine, minerals from your saliva combine with the plaque to develop tartar. Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be brushed away.

The deposits of dental calculus create stains on the teeth, usually along the gum line. Dental calculus will also put you at greater risk of cavities and more severe oral health issues. Given that calculus cannot be removed with ease at home, you should get a professional cleaning at least twice a year.

Calculus is more visible, and its impacts are easy to see. The rate at which plaque develops into tartar can vary greatly from person to person. For this reason, you must pay close attention to your personal situation.

Controlling Plaque and Calculus

Given that plaque and bacteria constantly form on your teeth, it is impossible to prevent plaque entirely. However, there are several steps that can be taken to stay on top of the situation and stop plaque from growing and hardening.

Most of the steps revolve around good daily oral hygiene habits. Focus on the following elements for success:

  • Brush thoroughly twice per day,
  • Floss daily between the teeth
  • Change your diet to limit sugary foods

While taking these steps should control plaque, you are still likely to see some build-up. If you notice discoloration and other signs of dental calculus, give us a call for a cleaning.

Even if you do not see signs of calculus, it’s worth visiting the dentist every six months to stay on top of your dental health. Schedule your appointment today or give us a call.

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