Plaque and tartar, what’s the difference?

It is easy to confuse plaque and tartar, but they are two very distinct stages. The difference is mainly microbiological. It also happens that the two are superimposed.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a biofilm made up of many bacteria that is present on the surface of the teeth. A biofilm can be described as a population that communicates and helps each other to survive. Different bacteria are present and each plays a role in this community. Dental plaque is therefore ” living ” and is made up of several billion bacteria. It is in fact plaque that will cause most gum disease. The bad bacteria in the gum will move under the gum and cause serious damage. They can even enter the bloodstream to cause problems to 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 waste which, in contact with the saliva, solidify. This process of mineralization leads to the death of the bacteria and consists in the formation of tartar. Tartar can be described as the foundations of a building that has been abandoned by a population after it leaves. Tartar is therefore not ” living “. It is important to know that tartar helps to form 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 a simple brushing, it will have to be removed by a veterinarian.

Things to remember

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


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ten Cate JM. Biofilms, a new approach to the microbiology of dental plaque. Odontology. 2006 Sep;94 (1): 1-9.
Jin Y, Yip HK. Supragingival Calculus: Formation and Control. Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2002;13(5):426-41.

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