Plaque is a white film of bateria that can form on our teeth and gum line. A more common word for calculus is tartar. Tartar generally occurs when plaque is not removed by regular tooth brushing and flossing and it can harden and creates calculus (tartar).
The main difference between the two is that plaque can be removed by patients at home because it is softer whereas calculus is much harder and adheres to the teeth strongly! Whereas, calculus has to be removed by a dental professional.
Commonly patients come in saying their teeth feel ‘furry’. This is due to the presence of plaque formed on the teeth, which is a soft substance primarily consisting of bacteria accumulating throughout the day. If not removed from the teeth, it can lead to gum disease otherwise known as gingivitis and the bacteria can also degrade the teeth resulting in decay.
Ideally brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day can keep plaque at bay between dental visits. If not removed, the plaque can calcify and harden to become calculus which cannot be removed at home. Calculus adheres more strongly to teeth than plaque and also consists of bacteria, so you can only imagine the damage it is doing in the mouth!
The most common place for calculus to form is on the back of the lower front teeth due to the adjacent salivary glands. This calculus build up can be thought of similarly to lime deposits in a kettle.
Importantly and not often considered, other than plaque and calculus causing gingivitis or gum disease, the bacteria within the plaque and calculus can also affect many body systems including the heart.
So the moral of the story is to make sure you remove the plaque regularly at home through good oral hygiene habits and have the dentist remove the calculus once formed.