Plaque and Tartar, what’s the difference?

Plaque and tartar are easy to confuse, yet they are two distinct stages. The difference lies mainly at the microbiological level. It also happens that the two overlaps.

What is dental plaque?

Dental plaque is a biofilm made up of several bacteria that is present on the surface of the teeth. A biofilm can be described as a population that communicates and helps one another to survive. Different bacteria are present and each plays a role in this community. Dental plaque is, therefore “alive” and consists of billions of bacteria. It is actually plaque that will cause most gum disease. The bad bacteria contained in it will move under the gum and cause significant damage. They can even enter the bloodstream to cause problems with other organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. The best way to remove it is by brushing your teeth.

What is tartar?

Once the dental plaque is installed, it produces several wastes which, in contact with the saliva, solidify. This process of mineralization causes the death of bacteria and consists of the formation of scale. Tartar can be described as the foundations of a building abandoned by a population after its departure. Tartar is not “alive”. It should be known that it helps in the formation of dental plaque since bacteria can easily cling to it. When it accumulates, it causes a lot of irritation and inflammation to the gums. Tartar cannot be removed with simple brushing, it will have to be removed by a veterinarian.

What you must remember

Adopting good dental hygiene for your pet is ultimately about preventing the buildup of bacteria that form plaque. Therefore, when buying a dental hygiene product, it is important to select one that prevents plaque build-up. If the latter is not regularly removed, the plate is gradually transformed into tartar which facilitates the accumulation of other bacteria. All of this can lead to gum disease and other health problems for the animal. After brushing your teeth, it takes only one hour for plaque to form. So it’s a daily struggle, but prevention is better than cure!


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Jin Y, Yip HK. Supragingival Calculus: Formation and Control. Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2002;13(5):426-41.

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