Plaque and Tartar

Teeth with tartar buildup

Plaque and tartar (calculus) are dental biofilms formed via an ordered sequence of events, resulting in a structured and functionally organized oral microbial community. Modern molecular biological techniques have identified about 1000 different bacterial species within dental biofilm. That is twice as many as can be cultured in a lab!

To put this into perspective, in the world around us sites for biofilm formation include all kinds of surfaces: natural materials above and below ground, metals, plastics, medical implant materials—even plant and body tissue. Wherever you find a combination of moisture, nutrients and a surface, you are likely to find biofilm. Biofilm is a generic term used to describe a microbial community. Some of the distinctive properties of biofilms are its unique inter-locking structure, quorum sensing (chemical communication between the bacteria), gene transfer, and antibiotic resistance. The key characteristics of biofilm are its adhesive mass, adaptability, its activity as a coordinated community in which cells communicate via small molecules, and its inflammatory disease potential. Dental plaque biofilm cannot be eliminated. However, the pathogenic nature of the dental plaque biofilm can be reduced by reducing the bioburden (total microbial load and different pathogenic isolates within that dental plaque biofilm) and maintaining a normal healthy oral flora with appropriate oral hygiene methods. When oral hygiene is neglected (not flossing and brushing), minerals in saliva calcify the soft deposit into calculus or tartar. Tartar (calculus) is the result of calcification of plaque on the tooth surface. Once formed, it is very difficult to remove. Even worse, tartar is a porous material that serves to provide habitat for bacteria and in effect offers a layer of protection. Preventative measures to limit plaque formation is the best way to keep tartar in check.

Dental plaque/biofilm formation is very constant process as illustrated below:
Time Line Stages of Plaque Formation
Few Seconds Initial bacterial adhesion.
4-8 Hours Plaque Formation Initiates and bacterial growth multiplies.
5-7 Days

Bacteria’s pathogenic in nature established and dominates. Plaque mineralization (Dental Calculus/Build Up) initiated.

14 Days Plaque grows below the gum line (Sub-gingival).