You must have heard the terms ‘dental plaque’, ‘calculus’ and ‘tartar’ many times on TV ads. These terms often appear in health and dental hygiene books. Do you know what is meant by dental plaque and calculus? In the paragraphs below, we will explain what is meant by dental plaque and calculus. First, we will talk about each one of them and then talk about their differences.
Dental plaque is the soft sticky layer of food debris that starts accumulating on our teeth immediately after we eat or drink. Formation of plaque is virtually a continuous process. It starts forming the moment you finish cleaning your teeth. Brushing twice a day and flossing regularly removes most of the plaque. If we are not regular and thorough in our oral hygiene, plaque layer will thicken. The layer normally turns yellow if allowed to accumulate and give a very unseemly sight.
Dental plaque is the source of most dental and periodontal problems. Disease-causing bacteria thrive in the plaque and convert food remnants adhering to the teeth into acid. This acid weakens the protective action of the saliva and permits erosion of the enamel on your teeth. Continued erosion leads to cavities, pain and other dental problems which may ultimately lead to teeth loss. Bacteria in the plaque can also generate toxins which cause early stages of gum disease, starting with inflammation of gums. Untreated gum disease will ultimately lead to advanced gum disease, bone loss and even loss of teeth.
It is possible that despite all your personal efforts you are unable to clean the plaque from your teeth completely. Plaque can remain like spots on the surface of your teeth, or in between the teeth where it is difficult for the brush or floss to clean effectively. It can also lodge along the gum line. Complete cleaning of plaque is possible through regular dental exams and cleaning every six months.
If plaque is not cleaned and is allowed to accumulate over the teeth, it hardens over time and becomes calculus or tartar. Calculus also provides a safe breeding ground for harmful bacteria which promotes gum and periodontal disease. This marks the initial stages of a periodontal disease which involves swelling of the gums and detachment of fibers that attach the gums to the jaw bone. Calculus starts forming in the space between teeth and the gums which will deepen as the calculus formation increases. Bacteria thrive there aggravating the gum disease to the stages called periodontitis and advanced periodontitis. The immune system of the body reacts and in the ensuing battle, also attacks the gum flesh and the jaw bone. The result of untreated advanced periodontal disease is loosening and ultimately, loss of teeth.
Difference between calculus and plaque
Plaque is relatively fresh and soft and can be mostly cleaned with routine brushing. Calculus is the harder form of plaque. Calculus at the gum line can be removed by regular cleanings at a dentist office. If calculus is present on the root surfaces, it can only be cleaned by a dental procedure called deep cleaning or scaling and root planing. Deep cleaning involves the removal of calculus from the teeth by using ultrasonic scalers and periodontal curettes. The tip of ultrasonic scalers vibrates at very high frequencies which help in plaque and calculus removal.