Plaque and tartar

Don’t Let Tartar Tarnish Your Smile

The naturally occurring sticky film on teeth, known as plaque, can build up and harden over time. This hardened pileup of plaque at your gum line is called tartar. Tartar, also called calculus, can do a number on your gums

If you don’t see your dentist for regular cleanings, tartar can develop into a more serious problem called periodontitis, or gum disease. As tartar forms, the gums start to pull away from the teeth. This creates “pockets” around teeth that can become infected. The bone that supports teeth may also become damaged. This can lead to tooth loss.

Periodontitis is also linked to other health problems including heart disease and stroke.

Plaque vs. Tartar

While you can get rid of plaque on teeth with regular brushing and flossing, you won’t have much luck beating tartar on your own. Tartar can only be removed during a professional cleaning by a dental professional.

Having tartar professionally removed is important because tartar is a magnet for bacteria, which can harm your teeth and gums. The longer tartar stays on teeth, the more damage it can do.

Taming the Plaque That Causes Tartar

Good oral hygiene can help prevent tartar from building up on your teeth. Here’s what you can do:

  • Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day, paying special attention to your gum line.

  • Use dental floss at least once daily.

  • Get regular dental checkups and teeth cleaning.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

If you have red or bleeding gums, see your dentist right away.


“JAMA Patient Page: Periodontal Disease.” J.M. Torpy et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. February 6, 2008, vol. 299, no. 5, p. 598. Accessed 2013.

“Oral Health Fact Sheet.” National Women’s Health Information Center, September 23, 2008. Accessed 2013.

“Periodontal Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 10, 2013. Accessed 2013.

“Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, August 2012. Accessed 2013

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