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What Causes Tartar and Plaque Buildup?

graphic of plaque being removedYou may have heard our hygienist refer to tartar or plaque buildup. What you may not know is, what it is, why it’s a problem and how to remove it. At Pine Belt Periodontics, PLLC, we pride ourselves in not just restoring damaged teeth, but in providing preventive care, education and tips so our patients can have healthier teeth. Plaque and tartar are often the first step in disease; we can help you prevent disease.


In dentistry, plaque refers to a substance that can be found on the surface and along the rim of teeth where bacteria can thrive and proliferate. Plaque is a sticky, white or creamish colored substance that your mouth naturally creates. It is a collection system designed to clean our mouths. Our mouths naturally blend saliva with food particles to create this substance and clean our mouths. What our body hasn’t caught up to yet is our overabundance of sugar intake.

Sugar is in so much of the foods we eat. Besides the obvious cookies and cakes, sugar is also in breads, pastas, fruit and more. Bacteria love to feed on the sugars that are left in the small particles of food that are left in our mouths. So, as our mouth naturally collects these particles and mixes it with saliva, this new substance called plaque settles on our teeth. The bacteria feeds on the sugar that is in these particles and as it feeds, it emits an acid that breaks down our enamel and causes an infection in our gum tissue.

We can remove plaque through regular brushing and flossing. To achieve this, we need to be diligent and follow tooth brushing guidelines, including angling the brush toward our gum tissue, and brushing each quadrant of our mouth for 30 seconds. If we don’t remove plaque daily, it is subject to drying and hardening in place, which is known as tartar.


Tartar, sometimes referred to as calculus, is plaque that has dried and hardened. Once it’s in this hardened state, it is much more difficult to remove and some patients have even damaged their enamel in attempting to remove it. Tartar should only be removed by a professional hygienist, such as ours at Pine Belt Periodontics, PLLC. Tartar is dangerous to the health of your teeth. It is prime ground for cavities and decay to form. This now hardened material is still very much alive with bacteria who are happily eating away and producing acid to destroy your teeth.

Tartar can be safely removed by the hygienist through a process known as scaling. The ultrasonic scaler uses a vibrating tip along with a stream of oxygenated bubbles. This safely lifts the tartar and removes it. Afterwards, we then go over the teeth with a hand scaling device to double check the areas and ensure that they are clean.

Plaque and tartar can be damaging to the health of your teeth and gums. You can prevent this through daily brushing and regular dental cleanings.

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Pine Belt Periodontics, 9 Medical Blvd., Hattiesburg, MS 39401-7231 : (601) 264-2424 : : 9/26/2023 : Page Keywords: Periodontist Hattiesburg MS :