Plaque Vs. Tartar: Which One Is Worse?

Person receiving a routine cleaning at a dentist’s office, removing tartar and plaque

When it comes to maintaining good oral health, terms like tartar and plaque are often thrown around and sometimes used interchangeably. But what exactly are they? Are they the same thing, or do they have distinct characteristics?

In this article, we’ll unpack the tartar vs. plaque questions, shedding light on their differences, formation, and potential risks to your oral health.

By understanding these dental foes, you’ll be better equipped to combat them and preserve a healthy smile for years! And our Stillwater dentists are here to assist with routine dental visits!

What is plaque?

First, let’s start with the basics. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that continuously forms on your teeth. It consists of bacteria, saliva, and food particles. If not effectively removed through proper oral hygiene practices, plaque can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay.

Additionally, plaque buildup along the gumline can cause gum inflammation, leading to gingivitis and potentially progressing into periodontal disease. Regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups are vital to prevent and control plaque formation.

Understanding tartar

To truly understand plaque vs. tartar, you have to know what tartar is. Simply put, this substance is hardened plaque, also called calculus. It develops on the teeth when plaque goes untreated and is left to mineralize.

Over time, plaque absorbs minerals from saliva. Then, it transforms into a hardened substance that firmly attaches to tooth surfaces. Unlike plaque — which you can remove through proper oral care — tartar requires professional dental intervention.

Moreover, tartar’s rough texture makes it an ideal surface for bacteria accumulation, increasing the risk of gum disease and dental problems. Tartar buildup not only affects oral health but also detracts from the aesthetics of your smile.

The formation process

Plaque forms naturally on our teeth within minutes of eating or drinking. If not removed through brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar within days. The porous nature of tartar makes it prone to further plaque accumulation, exacerbating oral health issues.

Tartar is often visible as a yellowish or brownish deposit on the teeth, especially near the gumline. Its stubborn nature makes it difficult to remove without professional intervention. That’s why our dentist emphasizes the importance of regular dental cleanings to prevent tartar buildup.

Risks and consequences

Both plaque and tartar pose significant risks to your oral health. Plaque, if not adequately controlled, can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath, and even tooth loss.

Tartar, on the other hand, acts as a breeding ground for bacteria, further aggravating gum inflammation and increasing the chances of developing periodontal disease. Moreover, tartar buildup can stain your teeth, diminishing the brightness of your smile.

Given these risks, it’s crucial to prioritize oral hygiene practices and seek professional dental cleanings to remove tartar and minimize its adverse effects.

In the battle of tartar vs. plaque, prevention is key. By maintaining a consistent oral care routine that includes brushing twice daily, flossing, and regular, bi-yearly dental checkups, you can significantly reduce plaque formation and the subsequent development of tartar.

Remember, effective plaque control keeps your teeth and gums healthy and contributes to a confident and radiant smile, all while preventing tartar. Stay proactive in your oral health journey, and win the battle against tartar and plaque with proper care and attention.


Are you ready to keep tartar and plaque at bay? Then, contact our office today to book your next appointment.


Stillwater Family Dental gladly welcomes new patients while giving existing ones the care they deserve. We’re located in Oak Park Heights, MN, making us accessible to residents in Hugo, Oakdale, White Bear Lake, Maplewood, Stillwater, North Saint Paul, and Mahtomedi.


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