Plaque and tartar on teeth

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Plaque is the sticky coating that forms on teeth from a buildup of bacteria. Tartar is hardened plaque.

Alternative Names

Tartar and plaque on teeth; Calculus


Your dentist or hygienist should show you the correct way to brush and floss. General steps for preventing and removing tartar or plaque on your teeth include:

  • Brush at least twice a day with a brush that is not too large for your mouth. Choose a brush that has soft, rounded bristles. The brush should let you reach every surface in your mouth easily, and the toothpaste should not be abrasive.
  • Electric toothbrushes clean teeth better than manual ones. Brush for at least 2 minutes with an electric toothbrush each time.
  • Floss gently at least once a day. This is important to prevent gum disease.
  • See your dentist or oral hygienist at least every 6 months for a thorough teeth cleaning and oral exam. Some people who have periodontal disease may require more frequent cleanings.
  • Solutions you slosh in your mouth to identify areas of tartar buildup may be helpful.

Well-balanced meals will help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Avoid snacking between meals, especially on sticky or sugary foods. If you do snack, try to brush afterward.


Chow AW. Infections of the oral cavity, neck, and head. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 65.

Teughels W, Godts C, Quirynen M, Jakubovics N. Biofilm and periodontal microbiology. In: Newman MG, Takei HH, Klokkevold PR, eds. Carranza's Clinical Periodontology. 12th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 8.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/22/2016
  • Michael Kapner, DDS, general and aesthetic dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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