Plaque, Tartar and Calculus

Our Wickford dentist explains these contributory factors to gum disease.

Dentists, as most patients will know, use a lot of technical language to record the condition of a patient’s teeth and gums. It is important to be specific, rather than vague, when keeping accurate records of a patient’s oral health.

This can be confusing, and even worrying, to the patient who may fear that there is more wrong with their teeth and gums than is the reality. In today’s blog, we will look at three commonly used but potentially confusing terms that dentists use when talking about gum disease.


Plaque is very common, and, kept under control, is relatively harmless. It is a collection of bacteria that accumulates in the mouth. A healthy mouth will wash these bacteria away efficiently and most people won’t even be aware of it. Plaque is a sticky white substance that sticks to the teeth and gums and you may have noticed it if you have ever woken up dehydrated. It isn’t actually the alcohol you may have consumed that forms the sticky substance in your mouth, but the fact that your mouth, when dry, creates a perfect breeding ground for these bacteria.

Providing that you clean your teeth well and see the hygienist at our Wickford practice, plaque should cause relatively few problems.


Tartar is the same bacteria as plaque but creates additional problems because it is a harder substance. This usually accumulates in the areas of the mouth where it is more difficult to reach with a toothbrush. These include the rear of the back teeth, in between the teeth and at the gumline, especially behind the teeth. Brushing your teeth correctly and using dental floss will help to prevent the build up, but tartar can only be removed effectively with a scale and polish procedure performed by the hygienist.

If neglected, tartar may lead to gum disease problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis, which may eventually result in the loss of teeth.


A little trick here, as calculus is simply another word for tartar though less used than it used to be. So, whether your dentist mentions tartar or calculus, they are, in effect, discussing the same thing. At your Wickford dental centre, we like to make sure that our patients are aware of issues surrounding their oral health and we are always happy to explain what will happen during a procedure, should you wish to know.

If you have heard your dentist say something where you are not sure what it means and are perhaps too reserved to ask, why not drop us a line and we will try to cover it in one of our future blog posts.

You can contact us by calling our Wickford dental practice on 01268 733078 or use the form on our enquiries page.