Diseases & Conditions

Bacterial Plaque - Plaque and Tartar on Teeth


Overview & Description

The best way to understand the mechanism of plaque and tartar retention on teeth is to think of plaque as sticky cement--a little like old-fashioned library paste. But also think of this paste as loaded with bacteria. This soft material gets everywhere in the mouth. It forms readily on the surfaces of the teeth, between the teeth, in the crevices between the gum tissue and the tooth surface, in the grooves and fissures on the biting surfaces of the teeth, and even on the top surface of the tongue.

The longer plaque is allowed to set, the more difficult it is to remove. In the early stages it can be brushed and flossed off the teeth. Once it has set, it is called tartar or calculus. Tartar must be scraped off the teeth by a dentist or dental hygienist.

What is the information for this topic?

The bacteria in plaque and tartar cause major problems. The bacterial mass is held tightly to the tooth surface and quickly turns certain foods, such as sugars and starches, into decay-producing acid. The acid dissolves the tooth structure and causes cavities, which are also called dental caries.

This bacterial mass also produces irritating substances, which cause gum and bone disease, known as gingivitis and periodontitis. Gum disease is the most significant reason for tooth loss in adults.

Following these recommendations will help prevent cavities and gum diseases:

  • Use a soft toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. Ask your dental care professional to help teach you and your child how to brush effectively.
  • Floss at least twice a day. Be careful not to injure the gums when flossing.
  • Brush the top surface of the tongue lightly to reduce the white or gray coating which naturally occurs there. This will help eliminate some of the bacteria and helps prevent unpleasant breath.
  • Mouthwash is pleasant but doesn't really help as much as brushing. Ask your healthcare professional for a recommendation.
  • Obtain specific oral care instructions from your dental healthcare professional. There are many sources of free material to help you learn the best way to brush and floss. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

  • Attribution

    Author:Marvin Goldfogel, DDS
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:04/30/01
    Reviewer:Sandy Keefe, RN, MSN
    Date Reviewed:08/09/01