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Plaque and tartar on teeth


Plaque is a sticky film that coats teeth and contains bacteria. If plaque is not removed on a regular basis, it will harden and turn into tartar (calculus).

Alternative Names

Tartar and plaque on teeth; Calculus; Dental plaque; Tooth plaque; Microbial plaque; Dental biofilm


Your dentist or hygienist should show you the correct way to brush and floss. Prevention is key to oral health.

Brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time. The brush head should have medium to soft, rounded bristles and not be too large for your mouth, letting you reach every surface in your mouth easily. The toothpaste should contain fluoride, and not be too abrasive.

Electric toothbrushes have been shown to clean teeth better than manual brushes . Some have timers to tell you when two minutes have passed. Other tips for preventing and removing tartar or plaque on your teeth include:

  • Floss gently at least once a day, following the technique provided by your dental professional. This is important to prevent gum disease.
  • Using water irrigation systems helps to flush out debris from between your teeth, and under your gums, which may help control bacteria around your teeth and below the gum line.
  • See your dentist or dental 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.
  • Swishing a solution or chewing a special tablet in your mouth may help identify areas of plaque buildup.
  • Well-balanced meals will help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Avoid snacking between meals, especially on sticky or sugary foods as well as food high in carbohydrates, such as potato chips. If you do snack in the evening, you need to brush afterward. No more eating or drinking (water is allowed) after the bedtime brushing.


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. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 64.

Teughels W, Laleman I, Quirynen M, Jakubovics N. Biofilm and periodontal microbiology. In: Newman MG, Takei HH, Klokkevold PR, Carranza FA, eds. Newman and Carranza's Clinical Periodontology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 8.

Last reviewed January 24, 2022 by Michael Kapner, DDS, General Dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

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