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What is the Difference Between Plaque & Tartar? | Affinity Health

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, highlights differences between plaque and tartar, plus early warning signs of dental problems.

Did you know that your dental health can reveal clues about your health? Or that plaque and tartar in your mouth can have an impact on the rest of your body?

“There are many oral diseases that affect both children and adults. Some oral diseases are minor. Others can have serious complications,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“Staying on top of basic oral care habits is critical. Basic oral care the likelihood of having a mild or serious dental ailment.”

Plaque Vs. Tartar

Plaque and tartar both raise the risk of cavities. They can also cause gingivitis, periodontitis, and other dental problems.


While it may make you feel a little queasy, your mouth is not as clean as you would hope it to be. Plaque is a soft, transparent, or yellow film. It has about 7 000 different microorganisms that live on and around your teeth.


These bacteria can form a biofilm when they bond together. If you do not remove plaque, it calcifies. Calcification happens when plaque traps calcium or other minerals from saliva and hardens.


Dentists call hardened plaque “tartar” or calculus.


Tartar is a hard, yellow, or brown deposit. It secures and bonds itself to the enamel of your teeth. As tartar sticks to tooth enamel, your gum tissue can become inflamed. Gums can even bleed when you brush your teeth. This indicates the onset of gingivitis.


If you do not remove tartar, it can progress to periodontitis. This is a severe form of gum disease. Periodontitis can cause the bone that supports your teeth to deteriorate. It can also make your gums recede and you may even lose a tooth.

How Plaque’s Affects Your Health And Wellbeing

Gum inflammation is a symptom of an infection. Like all infections, it has the potential to spread to other parts of the body. It can have a negative impact on a person’s general health in the four following ways:

  1. Gum inflammations trigger chronic immune response. The body cannot be on high alert all the time. If the body is fighting infection, it will exhaust itself and get weaker over time.
  1. Advanced gum disease exposes the body to a higher bacterial load. Bacteria that was once exclusive to the mouth now enters the circulation. This causes inflammation throughout the body. Doctors have identified chronic inflammation as a risk factor for heart disease. It can also cause strokes, respiratory complications, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  1. One study found a link between gum disease and diabetes. The University of Copenhagen found that gum disease elevates fasting blood sugar levels. They conducted this study with a test group of non-diabetic patients. The participants’ blood sugar levels remained high on a continuous basis. Thus, the non-diabetic patients developed pre-diabetes. The study found that gum disease can also make diabetes more difficult to manage.
  1. People who have gum disease are more likely to get dementia. The “mild” discomfort associated with severe gum disease can cause memory issues. Researchers have also assessed the effect of gum disease on memory in two groups of people.One group of people had gum disease, while the other did not. The healthy participants outperformed the gum disease participants in a memory test.

How Do I Know If I Have Plaque?

You can identify plaque on the teeth through any of the following symptoms:
  • Chronic foul breath
  • Teeth that feel sticky or gritty
  • Bleeding or swollen gums


You should consider thorough cleaning because plaque tends to accumulate between the teeth and even on the gums. The good news is that you can remove plaque with regular brushing and flossing.


You can also ensure plaque removal by visiting the dentist regularly. Dental scaling can also remove plaque beneath the gums, where it can cause inflammation and develop into tartar.


Fluoride toothpaste can help to protect your teeth from bacteria and plaque. Because the bacterium that creates plaque depends on sugar, eating less sugar may also help. People who have bulk plaque build-up or a history of tooth decay may benefit from a fluoride treatment at the dentist.

How Do I Know If I Have Tartar?

Tartar may be present if a person notices:
  • Discoloured areas on teeth, particularly near the gums or between the teeth
  • Hard, rough spots on teeth
  • Gums that are swollen, sore, or bleeding


A person cannot remove tartar or calculus on their own. Tartar is tough and attempting to scratch or tear it off might cause tooth damage. Professional cleaning by dentists can eradicate tartar. Regular scaling is a technique used to eliminate plaque and tartar from beneath the gums. Your oral hygienist can perform regular scaling to prevent tartar from reoccurring.


Manual toothbrushes can produce excellent results. But a 2014 study discovered that oscillating electric toothbrushes are more successful. They can remove more plaque and reduce gingivitis. Rinse your mouth with mouthwash after flossing and brushing your teeth. Add fluoride to over-the-counter mouthwashes to provide further plaque prevention. Gingivitis patients may need a stronger mouthwash. A dentist or healthcare provider can prescribe antiseptic mouthwashes.


Affinity Health aims to make affordable oral healthcare available to all South Africans. They offer healthcare plans designed to suit your health and financial needs.


Dentistry benefits include:
  • One full mouth assessment
  • One scale and polish every six months
  • Infection control
  • Two intraoral radiographs
  • Three extractions
  • Three fillings


Terms and conditions apply. For more information, click here.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading provider of health insurance. We offer a wide range of cover options at affordable rates. Medical cover includes access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to always give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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