Dental Patient Education


Plaque & Tartar Control


Plaque and Tartar Control

Patients often confuse plaque and tartar and how they are related to each other.

Plaque is a sticky, colorless deposit of bacteria which is constantly forming on teeth. Saliva, food and fluids combine to produce these deposits that collect on teeth and where teeth and gums meet.

Plaque build-up is the primary factor in periodontal (gum) disease. Fighting plaque is a life-long component of oral care.


Plaque begins forming on teeth 4 to 12 hours after brushing, which is why it is so important to brush at least twice daily and floss daily.

Plaque which is not removed by regular brushing and flossing can harden into unsightly tartar (also called calculus). This crusty deposit can only be removed by a dentist. Tartar formation may also make it more difficult for you to remove new plaque and bacteria. The prevention of tartar build-up above the gumline has not been shown to have a therapeutic effect on gum disease.



These photographs show three degrees of tartar (or calculus) formation:

You can help reduce the formation of calculus by:
  • Brushing with an ADA-accepted tartar-control toothpaste.
  • Having your teeth cleaned professionally every six months, or more frequently, as recommended by your dentist or hygienist.

Individuals vary greatly in their susceptibility to plaque and tarter. For many of us, these deposits build up faster as we age. Fighting tartar is a life-long component of oral care.

Back to the Dental Patient Education Index

Copyright 1996 - 2008 All Rights Reserved.