Plaque vs Tartar-Differences between Plaque and Tartar

Plaque or tartar? What is the difference between these two dental conditions? Read on to find out how they differ in terms of meaning, appearance, causes treatment and prevention

Plaque vs Tartar Definition & Build up

Plaque definition and how it builds up

Plaque refers to the colorless film of bacteria which is sticky and contains sugars. This film builds up on your teeth and sometimes gums.

You are prone to developing plaque since bacteria continually forms in your mouth. Your diet ingredients and saliva are what the bacteria depends on for growth. Plaque is most noticeable on the teeth when you do not brush them. When there is plaque on your teeth, you can feel it using your tongue. It feels fuzzy.

Dental Plaque
Dental Plaque photo

When plaque first forms, it can be gotten rid of by simply brushing. When you fail to brush your teeth, the plaque builds up and the bacteria in it release acids that destroy your teeth enamel. Plaque buildup also endangers your gums by leaving them irritated.

Tartar definition and how it builds up

Tartar is defined as plaque that has hardened or calcified and attaches below your gum line and on the teeth enamel. Some people refer to tartar as calculus. Tartar gives room for more growth of plaque.

tartar on teeth picture
tartar on teeth picture

You can also define tartar as old plaque that cannot go away by simply brushing. Tartar builds up as more plaque stays longer on your teeth. Therefore, the more old plaque

Difference between Plaque and Tartar-Plaque or Tartar?

There are several differences between tartar and plaque. The differences can be discussed by focusing on different aspects such as color, appearance, causes, treatment, and prevention.

Color and appearance

As defined earlier, plaque is characterized by a colorless film. Some people describe it as white or grey. Plaque appears as a sticky substance which has a soft feel. On the other hand, tartar is usually brown or yellow in color. It is non-sticky and a hard deposit. This makes it very easy to differentiate tartar from plaque.



Plaque is caused by different things ranging from mouth hygiene to the type of foods you consume. It mainly develops when there are remains of foods containing carbohydrates on your teeth. Below are the common causes of plaque;

Failure to brush

This is the first and the major reason people develop plaque.  If you do not get rid of food remains on your teeth after eating, your teeth are at a risk of getting plaque.

Location of your tooth

The back teeth are more likely to experience tooth decay as compared to teeth in other locations. Crannies and groove in this teeth gives an explanation for their frequent decay. These grooves facilitate chewing of food but at the same time, they collect food particles.

The back teeth are hidden and in most cases, they are not cleaned well enough. It is this inaccessibility for proper cleaning that makes it easy for plaque to build up on these teeth. Bacteria thrives very well in the back teeth and the end result is production of the acid that destroys the enamel of your teeth.

Specific foods and drinks

The types of food you eat differ when it comes to their likelihood of causing tooth decay. There are certain foods and drinks that tend to be attached to our teeth even when you try brushing the teeth. Such foods include; milk, soda, honey, raisins, table sugar, and dried fruits. These foods therefore, require more serious cleaning of your teeth, otherwise you end up with plaque.

Bottled water

There are people who adore bottled water. Despite the hygiene levels that come with this water, this water lacks fluoride. This is the substance mostly added to public water supplies and it is praised for its ability to reduce cases of teeth decay and as a result decrease probability of plaque formation.

Withdrawing gums

Your gums may sometimes recede from your teeth. This creates an avenue for occurrence of plaque on the roots your teeth. Cementum is the substance that covers the roots of your teeth. As soon as the roots of your teeth are exposed due to receding gums, cementum is lost. Consequently, you experience decays and plaque formation as well. [1]


On the other hand, tartar is majorly caused by plaque that is left on the teeth for so long. Odd plaque leads to tartar development.

Apart from that, poor oral hygiene results to tartar build up. Failure to brush your teeth properly and efficiently results to formation of tartar[2]. Following the relationship of plaque and tartar, there are very few differences in the causes of the two.



Plaque can easily be gotten rid of at home as it does not necessitate seeing a doctor. Some of the ways of treating plaque while at home include;

Tomatoes and strawberries

The high quantities of vitamin C in strawberries and tomatoes explains their ability to maintain proper oral health. You are required to rub the fruits on your teeth directly. This should be done and left for about five minutes. The plaque will be softened and hence it will be easy to rinse it off.

Baking soda

You are required to wet your baking soda then place it on your toothbrush and brush your teeth. This one of the most perfect ways of removing plaque.

Use toothpaste that contains fluoride

To treat your gums and prevent buildup of germs, you are advised to brush using toothpaste that contains fluoride. It is very useful in treatment of plaque. [3]


On the contrary, tartar is hardened plaque and is very hard to remove at home. In most cases, you are advised to see a dentist. It is only a professional who can remove the tartar easily and completely. Even that you could try the above discussed home remedies for plaque though they take so long before they can remove tartar.



You can prevent formation of plaque by doing the following;

Brush your teeth at least two times in a day

You are advised to use a toothbrush which is soft and has a round-tip bristle. A fluoride-containing toothpaste is the best. Nadia Armentrout, DDS, explains that, it is crucial to brush your teeth after every meal in order to get rid of plaque as soon as it forms. Nadia further emphasizes that you must brush your teeth before going to bed.

  • There are guidelines that must be followed when brushing your teeth. They include the following;
  • Take at least two minutes to brush your teeth
  • When brushing, the tooth brush should be held at an angle of 45 degrees to the gums
  • You must brush your tongue to do away with any bacteria that attaches to it and so that you ensure a fresh breath


Use antibacterial mouthwash

You are advised to swish with mouthwash. An antibacterial mouthwash is considered the best since it prevents buildup of plaque. Mouthwash loosens plaque making it easy to remove. Armentrout explains that you should choose your mouthwash depending your needs. In other words, you shouldn’t use another person’s type of mouthwash.

Additionally, when choosing your mouthwash, choose the one that does not contain alcohol since alcohol content of mouthwash is likely to leave your mouth dry. An alcohol containing mouthwash is not advisable for plaque prevention.

Clean the spaces between your teeth

Plaque is likely to hide between your teeth. Atusha Patel, DMD, explains that brushing your teeth alone won’t prevent buildup of plaque. Floss at least once a day to get rid of dirt in between your teeth. You can clean the spaces between your teeth after or before brushing.

For effective cleaning, you could use; pre-threaded flossers, water flossers, dental picks, wooden plaque removers, and straight brushes that are small enough to fit in between your teeth.

Reduce starch and sugar intake

After eating, bacteria find their way to the sugars in the mouth. The bacteria feed on these sugars.  If you take too many sugary foods, there will increased growth of bacteria which is very hard to deal with. The end result is that you will have plaque on your teeth. Avoiding sugary foods is a great way of preventing buildup of plaque.

The foods that are responsible for sugar build up include; sticky candies, alcohol, highly starchy foods, and carbonated drinks. If you must take these foods, you are advised to take a lot of water so as to wash away any bits of food left in your mouth. In case you cannot access a brush after your meals, you can chew gum that is sugarless. [4]


On the other side, there are also ways of preventing tartar build up. The following are some of the things you need to do to reduce your risk of getting tartar;

Brush frequently

To prevent tartar from accumulating, you are advised to brush at least two times in a day for about two minutes. Ensure you reach your rear molars when you brush since these hard to reach molars encourage buildup of tartar if not brushed well.

Check on your diet

What you eat has a direct relationship with the probability of tartar buildup on your teeth. Starchy and sugary foods are what bacteria thrives on in your mouth. You will need to reduce intake of such foods. Otherwise, you must rinse your mouth thoroughly after eating starchy or sugary foods.

Use a toothpaste containing fluoride

Fluoride is responsible for repairing your tooth enamel. When your enamel is damaged, it is exposed to even greater risks of getting tartar.

Use antiseptic mouthwash

You are advised to kill bacteria that is likely to grow into plaque and later tartar by simply using an antiseptic mouthwash.


Brushing is not enough to get rid of food remains that eventually build up to form tartar. Flossing is important since it helps get rid of plaque that has grown in between your teeth.

Avoid smoking

Research shows that, people who smoke are at a higher risk of getting tartar on their teeth. To prevent tartar development, you are advised not to smoke.

plaque  vs tartar, differences and similarities
Plaque vs tartar illustration

Any Similarities

Despite the many differences between tartar and plaque, there are a few similarities that can be pointed out. Most of the similarities are on the causes and preventive measures as well as treatment options available for both.

For instance, poor oral hygiene and the types of foods you take are some of the major causes of tartar and plaque. Prevention measures for both tartar and plaque involve proper brushing and flossing as well as using a toothpaste that contains fluoride.

Sources and References





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