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Plaque and tartar on teeth

Plaque is the sticky coating that forms on teeth from a buildup of bacteria. If plaque is not removed on a regular basis, it will harden and turn into tartar (calculus).

Information

Your dentist or hygienist should show you the correct way to brush and floss. Prevention is key to oral health. Tips for preventing and removing tartar or plaque on your teeth include:

Brush at least twice a day with a brush that is not too large for your mouth. Choose a brush that has soft, rounded bristles. The brush should let you reach every surface in your mouth easily, and the toothpaste should not be abrasive.

Electric toothbrushes clean teeth better than manual ones. Brush for at least 2 minutes with an electric toothbrush each time.

  • Floss gently at least once a day. This is important to prevent gum disease.
  • Using water irrigation systems may help control bacteria around your teeth below the gum line.
  • See your dentist or dental hygienist at least every 6 months for a thorough teeth cleaning and oral exam. Some people who have periodontal disease may require more frequent cleanings.
  • Swishing a solution or chewing a special tablet in your mouth may help identify areas of plaque buildup.
  • Well-balanced meals will help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Avoid snacking between meals, especially on sticky or sugary foods as well as food high in carbohydrates such as potato chips. If you do snack in the evening, you need to brush afterward. No more eating or drinking (water is allowed) after the bedtime brushing.

Alternative Names

Tartar and plaque on teeth; Calculus; Dental plaque; Tooth plaque; Microbial plaque; Dental biofilm

References

Chow AW. Infections of the oral cavity, neck, and head. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 64.

Teughels W, Laleman I, Quirynen M, Jakubovics N. Biofilm and periodontal microbiology. In: Newman MG, Takei HH, Klokkevold PR, Carranza FA, eds. Newman and Carranza's Clinical Periodontology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 8.

Review Date 2/6/2020

Updated by: Michael Kapner, DDS, Family and Cosmetic Dentistry, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.