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Plaque – We’ve All Heard Of It – But What The Heck Is It?


Recently, we got involved in a conversation around the use of the word plaque and how not only does it pertain to teeth but it’s actually also a homonym. For those who may have forgotten their Grade Six grammar class, a homonym is a word (or two words) that are either spelled the same but have different meanings or are spelled similarly but sound the same when pronounced out loud. Don’t worry if it sounds confusing, we’ll explain more in a moment. To add to the confusion, during our conversation the person we were speaking with also asked us to explain the difference between plaque and tartar. Today we hope to talk about plaque, tartar and homonyms and – we hope – to clear up any confusion!


Plaque is probably best described as a sticky, sometimes colourless, and sometimes pale yellow, biofilm that builds up on your teeth over time. It occurs when a combination of food, saliva and fluids combine to create bacteria that can then accumulate, particularly around the gumline and this bacteria creates acids that can significantly damage your teeth. If you don’t brush regularly, this plaque can build up and actually mineralize – trapping stains and becoming tartar.


Tarter is the end result of plaque and is the yellow and/or brown mineralized deposits on plaque that can build up on the teeth and which can only be removed by a dental professional. As people age, this becomes particularly more problematic. The “technical” dental term for tartar is calculus, another dental term that could be considered a homonym, in this case for the mathematical term “calculus” – a division of mathematics that studies rates of change. As we did not go on to study higher-level mathematics at university, we won’t attempt to explain it any further!  Tarter is not only difficult to remove but can cause bad breath, tooth sensitivity and/or destroy tooth enamel. It may even lead to gum disease.

The best way to fight tarter is to fight plaque and the best way to fight plaque is to put these routine, easy steps into place, EVERY SINGLE DAY:

  • Brush! Sure it’s obvious but brushing regularly is your first line of defense in the never-ending battle against both plaque and tarter buildup.
  • Brushing should take place at a minimum of two times per day – morning and night but in a perfect world, also after every time you eat.
  • How you brush is also important. We’ve shared information on this before but it bears repeating. Brushing on an angle (of about 45 degrees) ensures you will get the brush bristles up into the gumline and into the corners between your teeth and gums.
  • A soft or medium bristled brush is actually better than a hard one and brushing gently is actually better than vigorously.
  • Use a toothpaste containing fluoride and recommended by the Canadian Dental Association and floss once a day too.
  • Finally – regularly scheduled teeth cleaning appointments where a dentist or hygienist can use special tools to scrape away at tarter buildup are a very important part of your overall oral health care routine.

Now that you know what plaque and tartar actually is, and how to prevent it, let’s go back to that grammar lesson! Have you figured out what the homonym for plaque is? It’s PLAQUE! As a noun, a plaque is typically an ornamental piece of metal, wood, ceramic or porcelain that is flat and inscribed with messaging, usually either for memorial purposes or congratulatory purposes. So, while dental plaque is something we strive to get rid of, a memorial or congratulations plaque is something we love to see hanging around on a wall for a good long time! Now you know! As for the team here at Brinkley Dental located in north Brampton, we will leave you as we always do with one final piece of advice: “Don’t forget to be a BFF with your mouth and brush that smile!”

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