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What is Plaque? What is Tarter? And What the Heck is Calculus?

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Author: Dr. Susan Wells

Tarter, Plaque and Calculus are three words you hear of a great deal in reference to oral health and hygiene. But what are they? What do these three words mean?

Dental Plaque is a clear and sticky film, composed of bacteria, which build up on teeth. These bacteria are normally present in your mouth and are usually harmless. However, if this thin layer of bacteria is not removed by ordinary brushing and flossing this plaque will build up and release acids which can then damage your teeth.

Plaque is made up of a variety of different bacteria; these bacterial make-ups result in different tooth problems. Some people who suffer from plaque buildup may suffer many cavities but never gum disease while others may only suffer from gingivitis. Therefore, one can never predict what type of tooth problem a certain type of plaque will create. We only know that left to its own devices plaque will create problems.

When plaque builds up it can turn into a mineral form commonly called tarter or calculus. These calcified deposits are responsible for many teeth and gum problems, including gingivitis, cavities and even tooth loss. And, unfortunately, the rough surface of tarter or calculus is the perfect surface for the formation of more plaque and tarter. Tartar can form both below and above the gum line. It can form quickly or slowly. In certain patients tarter will form very fast and in others the process can be quite slow. This normally depends on their oral hygiene and the amount of saliva in their mouth. Saliva can actually help to prevent tartar from forming because of its bacteria killing enzymes. Once tartar has formed it is necessary that patients take the appropriate oral hygiene steps to prevent further tartar build ups including visiting their dentist for professional tarter removal.

Good oral hygiene including regular brushing and flossing can keep plaque and therefore tarter down to a minimum. Brushing will keep the easy-to-reach surfaces of your teeth clean. It is best to turn off the running water and really pay attention to your brushing in order to get the best possible results. Flossing is necessary to get to the harder to clean places such as the crevices between your teeth that cannot be reached by brushing alone. However, only a visit to your dentist can ensure enough plaque is removed so tarter does not form. Once tarter or calculus has begun to form on your teeth only your dentist can get in with special tools and remove it.

Plaque, tarter and calculus are the main enemies of good oral health and easy dental check-ups and cleanings. Keeping these substances off the teeth can do wonders for eliminating the acids that can burn cavities into our teeth and harm our gums.

I recommend you brush your teeth after meals, when you awaken in the morning and before bed because plaque will begin to form within about four hours of brushing your teeth.

So, for healthy teeth and gums keep your teeth clean of plaque, tarter and calculus and visit your dentist every six months for a full check up and cleaning.

Dr. Susan Wells DMD has been practicing dentistry in Warrior, Alabama since 1978. She treats patients for all aspects of general dentistry including preventive dental care oral hygiene instruction and full scale exams and cleanings. To find out more or book an appointment visit her site at http://DrSusanWells.com.


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