Calculus and Tartar and Plaque, Oh My!

What are we talking about?

Over your lifetime you have probably heard about calculus, tartar and plaque and know they are bad. But what are they? How are they different? What can you do to prevent it? What do they do to your teeth? If you have asked yourself these questions you have come to the right place because that is what we are discussing today!


Plaque is a biofilm or mass of bacteria that grows on surfaces within the mouth. As we talked about last time what we eat and our oral hygiene habits (or lack of) can create a lovely environment for bacteria to want to come and live. Once enough bacteria congregates you can literally see and feel it. Think about how grossed out you are when you see bacteria colonies growing on a petri dish, that is kind of what is going on inside your mouth with plaque.

Calculus and Tarter

Good news is calculus and tartar are the same thing (not the math and sauce though), so that is one less thing you have to worry about. I feel like we are making progress now, we have gone from 3 things to worry about to only 2!

Bad news, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it is bad for your teeth! Calculus is formed by the hardening of the plaque on your teeth. Once it is hardened it is the perfect platform for more plaque to form and the process repeats.

Why is it so bad?

All of this bacteria is consuming sugar and the byproduct is acid! That acid starts to demineralize your teeth and this is where cavities start forming.

In addition calculus typically starts forming close to the gum line and starts irritating the gums, this is called gingivitis and can progress into periodontitis, which destroys the tissue and ligaments around the teeth causing them to loosen and leads to bone resorption. Literally your teeth will start falling out of your head if untreated.

How do I prevent or get rid of it?

Plaque is easily removed through brushing and flossing. You can also help reduce the potential for it by limiting your sugary and high carbohydrate foods and drinks. Or when you eat them to brush afterwards or at least rinse with some water.

Calculus can be prevented by getting rid of the plaque. Stopping it before it hardens up. Once it does turn into calculus you will need to visit the dentist and let your hygienist remove it (that is the scraping that happens with pointy instruments).