Plaque On Teeth: Frequently Asked Questions

plaque on teeth frequently asked questions

The best way to prevent dental problems is by practising good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly. Having your teeth checked every six months minimises your risk of developing a major dental problem since your dentist can closely monitor the health condition of your teeth. It is also crucial that you have your teeth cleaned professionally by a certified dental hygienist or dentist whenever you have your regular dental checkup. In today’s article, we answer all the most commonly asked questions about plaque formation on your teeth and how best to treat it.

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a thin, sticky film that forms on your teeth. This soft sticky film contains millions of bacteria that live in your mouth. the formation of plaque is almost an unavoidable consequence of eating. However, if you do not brush your teeth regularly, the plaque builds up, and as it interacts with the calcium in your saliva, it creates tartar. Tartar provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that produce toxic substances that may cause decay and inflammation of the gums.

What Is Tartar (Calculus)?

Tartar, also known as calculus, is hardened dental plaque. It accumulates on your teeth when plaque is not removed. The longer the plaque is left on your teeth, the harder it will be to remove. Tartar can damage your teeth and gums leading to tooth decay and inflammation of the soft gum tissues.

What Is The Difference Between Plaque And Tartar?

Most people tend to think that plaque and tartar are the same things. However, these are two separate dental conditions. Some of the most common differences between plaque and tartar include;

  1. Plaque can be removed with regular brushing and flossing, whereas tartar can only be removed by a dental professional
  2. Plaque is somewhat fresh and soft whereas tartar is hard

What Are The Signs & Symptoms?

Although plaque starts off colourless, it becomes yellow or brownish after calcifying. And since it is rough and porous, it quickly absorbs stains, making your teeth more prone to staining from substances like tobacco, coffee, tea, and wine. Although tartar is easy to see, the only way to know for sure if you have a buildup is to visit your dentist.

What Causes Dental Plaque?

Your mouth contains many bacteria that tend to settle on the surface of your teeth, creating a bacterial film. The growth of plaque is quite normal and is to be expected. However, when these bacteria mix with foods that contain sugars and starches (carbohydrates ), such as milk, raisins, cake, candy or soft drinks, they thrive on them, releasing acids. these acids attack your enamel, leading to tooth decay.

Why Should I Care About Plaque?

Plaque contains acids that can gradually break down your tooth enamel, leading to cavities and decay. If the acids are not washed off, decay will progress from enamel into dentine and, if left untreated, to the pulp. this will then lead to nerve inflammation or a dental abscess. Preventing cavities, tooth decay, and the abscess is quite easy. However, it begins with eradicating plaque from your teeth every single day.

If you do not brush your teeth often, the plaque on your teeth can harden into tartar in just a single day. Once it turns into tartar, it can discolour your teeth turning them yellow or brown. Other than being aesthetically unpleasing, tartar can also lead to the development of gum disease.

How To Treat Plaque On Teeth

While you cannot prevent plaque from forming, you can take the initiative of removing it. The most important thing is to brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day and floss once. ideally, you should also use a mouthwash at a different time throughout the day (not right after you brush). Also, make sure you visit your dentist once every six months. Consume healthy foods and drinks; limit your sugary food intake as it will help you prevent your mouth’s natural bacteria from increasing.

Consider boosting the amount of saliva that your mouth produces. Saliva helps to rinse bacteria off your teeth continually throughout the day. To increase the flow of saliva, rinse your mouth with water after a meal. Also, according to the ADA (American Dental Association), chewing on sugar-free gum for at least 20 minutes after meals can help prevent cavities and decays.

How Do I Prevent It?

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day for 2 minutes. Scrubbing your teeth in a hurry will not remove plaque buildup properly nor prevent tartar formation. Make sure to use a medium bristle brush, and follow the proper brushing techniques.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavity formation. Fluoride also helps to repair enamel damage, therefore, decreasing the risk of decay
  • Rinse your mouth daily. Use an antiseptic mouthwash to kill bacteria that cause plaque
  • Watch what you eat. The bacteria in your mouth thrive on starchy and sugary foods. When they get exposed to these foods, they release harmful acids. Hence, try to limit the number of sugary foods, and instead, indulge in a healthy diet. This, however, does not mean you give up sweets entirely. Just have them in moderation. It also helps a lot to brush your teeth and drink water amply during and after meals.
  • Floss daily: Regardless of how thoroughly and consistently you brush your teeth, flossing is the only way you can remove plaque buildup between your teeth and keep tartar out of those hard to reach places.

How Is A Dental Cleaning Procedure Done?

Dental cleaning involves the removal of plaque and tartar that have built up on your teeth over time. The dentist or dental hygienist uses specified instruments that aid in the gentle removal of the debris without harming your teeth. Here are some of the tools that may be used to clean your teeth:

Ultrasonic Instrument

This is commonly used as the first tool in the cleaning procedure. It is used to break down the large pieces of calculus. It sprays a cooling mist of water as it works its way through the tartar, washing away the debris and keeping the area at a proper temperature. The tips of this instrument are curved and rounded, as its primary purpose is to knock down tartar without cutting through your tooth. If the sensation from the tickling vibrations of the instrument is too intense, make sure to inform the dentist so that they can adjust it appropriately.

Fine Hand Tools

Once the large portions of tartar are removed, the hygienist may then switch to finer hand tools, also known as curettes and sickles, to remove the remaining tartar and smoothen the surface of your teeth. These tools are curved to match the curves of your teeth.


Once the surface of your teeth is smooth, the dental hygienist may proceed to polish them. This is done using a handpiece that contains a rotating brush. This tool uses prophylactic paste, a gritty, toothpaste-like material to make your teeth shiny and smooth.


If deemed necessary, fluoride varnishes may be applied to tooth surfaces as an adjunct to the routine scale and polish appointment. Since fluoride comes in a variety of flavours, including vanilla, chocolate and pina colada, you can choose your favourite. However, be sure not to swallow excessive amounts of the fluoride as it is meant for topical use only. The acids created by the bacteria in your mouth may damage your teeth, especially the enamel. Fluoride aids in strengthening the weakened teeth that are as a result of these acids.

Is Dental Cleaning Painful?

No. Most patients describe the sensation as ticklish. However, should you find it particularly unpleasant, topical gum-numbing agents and even local anaesthetic may be used.

How Often Should I Get A Dental Cleaning?

For your optimal dental health, make sure to see your dentist every six months to have the plaque, tartar, and stains properly cleaned and removed.

Have You Tried Our Free e-Consultation Service?

If you are worried about a dental related issue, interested in travelling to Malta for a dental holiday or have questions about any of the treatments we offer, please contact us using our new free e-Consultation service. One of our highly-qualified team will respond to your query as soon as possible. Our e-Consultation service is live 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday.

If you would like to schedule an in-person consultation at Savina Dental, please book your appointment using this form.

Savina Clinic – Dental & Implantology Centres are friendly, state-of-the-art practices in Malta and Gozo dedicated to comprehensive quality dental care. Savina Dental is an innovative dental practice in Malta and prides itself on the high-quality customer service, low waiting room times, attention to detail and the advanced dental technology at their disposal.

Dr Joseph Xuereb
Dental & Implant Surgeon. Principal
Savina Dental Clinics

Joseph Xuereb
Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.
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