Dental plaque is a biofilm or mass of bacteria that grows on surfaces within the mouth. It is a sticky colorless deposit. It is commonly found between the teeth, on the front of teeth, behind teeth, on chewing surfaces, along or below the gum line. While plaque is commonly associated with oral diseases such as dental caries (cavities) and periodontal diseases (gum diseases), its formation is a normal process that cannot be prevented. Progression and build-up of dental plaque can give rise to tooth decay – the localized destruction of the tissues of the tooth by acid produced from the bacterial degradation of fermentable sugar – and periodontal problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis; hence it is important to disrupt the mass of bacteria and remove it daily. Removal of dental plaque can prevent the development of caries and gum diseases. Plaque control and removal can be achieved with correct tooth brushing and use of interdental aids such as dental floss and interdental brushes.
Tartar, sometimes called calculus, is plaque that has hardened on your teeth. Tartar can also form at and underneath the gumline and can irritate gum tissues. Tartar gives plaque more surface area on which to grow and a much stickier surface to adhere, which can lead to more serious conditions, such as cavities and gum disease. Not only can tartar threaten the health of your teeth and gums, it is also a cosmetic problem. Because tartar is more porous, it absorbs stains easily. So, if you are a coffee or tea drinker, or if you smoke, it is especially important to prevent tartar buildup.