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BerkshireFamilyDental – Dr. Chehayeb - Feb 2009

Plaque, Tartar, Calculus – What are they and What do they do to my Teeth?

Tartar, Plaque and Calculus all have a significant effect on your teeth, gums, oral hygiene and overall oral health. But what are they? What do these three words mean?

The type of plaque referred to in dental care is a clear and sticky film, filled with bacteria, which build up on teeth. These bacteria are normally present in your mouth and are usually harmless. In fact, the enzymes in your saliva kill many bacteria which exist in your mouth. 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 and gums.

Dental plaque is made up of a variety of different bacteria; these bacterial make-ups result in different tooth problems. Some people who have plaque buildup may get 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.

Now, what about tartar and calculus? When plaque builds up it can turn into a mineral form commonly called tartar 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 tartar or calculus is the perfect surface for the formation of more plaque and tartar. Tartar, or calculus as it is sometimes called, can form both below and above the gum line. It can form quickly or slowly. In certain patients tartar will form very fast and in others the process can be quite slow. This normally depends on what they eat, 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 up including visiting their dentist for professional tartar removal. Because this calcification is quite hard it is difficult, if not impossible to remove it by normal at-home dental care.

Good oral hygiene including regular brushing and flossing can keep plaque and therefore tartar 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. Running water has a tendency to make us hurry through our dental hygiene routine. 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 tartar does not form. Once tartar has begun to form on your teeth only your dentist can get in with special tools and remove it.

Plaque, tartar and calculus are the main enemies of good oral. 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 and visit your dentist every six months for a full check up and cleaning.

Please fill out the form below if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation.
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Dr. H. Chehayeb
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Washington, DC 20016
Phone: (202) 244-3902
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