The Hills Dental Spa

What is Plaque?

Sometimes, in the dental office, we use phrases that we assume everyone knows.  But, really, not everyone has a true understanding for many of the health and dental terms that are used regularly.  Let’s try to simplify and define some commonly used terms, starting with Plaque and Tartar.

Dental plaque is a sticky film that forms on the surfaces inside the mouth, and is most recognizable as the film that develops on your teeth.  Within hours of even the most thorough brushing, plaque is likely to develop again, even in a very healthy mouth.  Once plaque forms, a film develops as an outer layer that protects the plaque from beind destroyed, which allows the bacteria within this film to multiply and produce potentially damaging acids.  Plaque can form in hard-to-reach places, like between the teeth, or on the back-side of the very back molars.  To remove plaque, through brushing, flossing and regular professional dental cleanings is recommended.

In some cases, the inner areas of undisturbed plaque will mineralize.  This hardened plaque is called calculus or tartar.  Calculus can form above and below the gumline.  Unlike plaque in its film form, calculus cannot be removed by brushing or flossing.  Your dental hygienist has special tools designed for calculus removal.  Calculus is problematic – it provides a place for bacteria to grow and multiply, and can lead to infection of the surrounding tissues. 

Some patients grow an excess of calculus under the gumline, where you can’t see it.  These patients will require a deep cleaning, or scaling, to clean this hardened buildup from under the gumline.  These cleanings are more costly than a regular dental cleaning, but a regular cleaning can’t get under the gums where this buildup occurs.  The other downside is that most dental insurances don’t pay very well for these deep cleanings. 

The good news is, patients who have their dental hygiene cleanings at least twice a year, typically won’t suffer from the calculus buildup under the gumline, so these deep cleanings won’t be necessary.  If you’ve had a deep cleaning in the past, then it’s especially important to keep up your regular dental cleanings every few months.

Let us help you keep your smile healthy!  Find more dental information on our website at

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