What are the complications of plaque and tartar?

Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Prosthodontics
Plaque is the smile's #1 enemy. It is a sticky film of bacteria that covers the teeth. After you eat, the bacteria release acids that attack tooth enamel. And if you eat sugary foods without cleaning well afterword, plaque will thrive on that sugar. The more sugar you eat, the greater the amount of acid is produced in your mouth. As soon as it accumulates, acids will start to break the enamel down, de-mineralizing its protective coating and encouraging cavities to form.

Plaque's perilous effects are alarming. The same plaque that is in the teeth is the plaque that travels into the bloodstream and clogs arteries. Too much plaque leads to periodontal disease and gum inflammation, eventually allowing the plaque to travel. I firmly recommend if a patient has extensive plaque buildup and poor periodontal health, a cardiovascular checkup should be recommended and a comprehensive physical with a primary care physician should follow.

Additionally, when plaque stays on teeth, it begins to harden. Long-term plaque eventually turns into calculus or, as it's more commonly known, tartar. Once plaque attacks the gums, gingivitis sets in and inflames them, causing them to redden and bleed. Since plaque doesn't stay still, it can creep below the gum line, and once it's there, it causes the gums to separate from the teeth. This sets the stage for eventual bone and tooth loss.
Ruchi K. Sahota
Dentist
The sticky film of bacteria that can be found on your teeth near the gum line is called plaque. This plaque can cause swelling or inflammation of the gums, otherwise known as gingivitis. If the plaque is not disrupted or removed properly by brushing, then this sticky film containing bacteria hardens and becomes tartar or calculus. If calculus is not cleaned by your dentist, this bacteria produces harmful substances that can start to damage the bone that supports the teeth, causing periodontal disease. The best way to prevent gingivitis and more serious forms of periodontal disease is to brush twice a day, to floss once a day, and to visit your dentist regularly for cleanings.
The buildup of plaque and tartar will cause several problems if left untreated.
  1. it is unsightly so your smile won't look as good.
  2. plaque and tartar contain large amounts of bacteria, and will lead to bad breath
  3. plaque and tartar will irritate your gums, so they will become red, swollen, and bleed easily- early forms of this are called gingivitis.
The longer this is left untreated the bacteria in the plaque release toxins into the gums and bones. this will cause the gums and bones to dissolve away, making your teeth loose. This is called periodontitis.
The accumulation of bacteria on one's teeth, both hard and soft, triggers the body’s immune response, which responds by sending blood the area. This can cause bleeding gums when brushing and flossing. If not removed, the gum and bone are lost and cannot be replaced. This creates both sensitive teeth and a “long in the tooth" look, which is cosmetically unattractive.
Dan Jenkins
Dentist
In the plaque and tartar are bacteria that, if left in place, will cause damage to the tooth surface as well as the gums that are attached to the tooth. These you know as cavities and gum disease or periodontal disease. Like high blood pressure is the "silent killer" in medicine, gum disease is the "silent killer" of teeth in dentistry. While you may feel pain from a cavity to warn you of a problem, gum disease only lets you know that something is wrong by causing your gums to bleed. If your gums bleed you should see your dentist right away. Healthy gums are NOT supposed to bleed! (If your toes were to bleed how fast would you want to see your doctor?)

Another recent discovery is that the bacteria in plaque and tarter are indicated as being involved in heart disease and strokes.

Socially, you would want the plaque and tarter removed to aid in your social life as it will also cause bad breath.
As usual, Dr. Oz answered this quite well. I would add that in addition to the periodontal breakdown that plaque and tartar will cause, tooth decay will also result. The plaque is made up of bacteria and their metabolic waste. Part of these metabolic by-products is acid, which breaks down tooth enamel, causing decay. 

Good oral hygiene (brushing/flossing) is important to remove plaque. Once tartar (or calculus -- calcified plaque) has formed, a dental professional will need to remove it. I live by the recommendation of having our teeth "cleaned" professionally, twice per year.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If the plaque and tartar aren't removed, the bacteria set up camp in the periodontal area between teeth and at the gum line. At first, the calcifications and colonization causes mild gingivitis, swelling and bleeding of gums. But as more bacteria take hold in plaque- and tartar-laden gums, gingivitis can advance to full-blown periodontitis. Eventually the pus-filled, inflamed tissue pulls away from the tooth, bone is compromised and exposed, and the tooth can no longer stay anchored in the mouth.

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.
Carol Jahn
Dentist
Plaque is filled with bacteria. When plaque is not thoroughly removed from under the gumline and between the teeth on a daily basis, the number of bacteria within the plaque increases. These bacteria cause gingivitis and gum disease. Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.

Brushing your teeth twice a day is important to control the plaque but it is not enough. You also have to clean in between your teeth. Flossing is one way to do it but it is often challenging to do at a level high enough to improve gum health. Other products that have been shown to work as well and may be easier to use are interproximal brushes, floss holders, and a Water Flosser.
Plaque and tartar on the teeth can lead to problems with the gums and teeth. Plaque and tartar near the gums causes an inflammation of the gums. At first this may present as gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease which can lead to the loss of teeth. Plaque and tartar on the teeth can lead to cavities. Left untreated, cavities can lead to abcesses and the loss of teeth. See your dentist regularly to have plaque and tartar removed from your teeth and brush and floss your teeth daily.  
Plaque is made up of bacteria, biofilm, and different toxins. If left to sit on your teeth long enough, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus)

Your body may mount an immune response as it sees this as an infection in your gums. As a result, the gums can become inflamed and the jaw bone destroyed as this "battle" wages.
 
Your teeth are covered with a sticky film called plaque that can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque contains bacteria, which following a meal or snack can release acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in cavities. Plaque that is not removed with thorough daily brushing and cleaning between teeth can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. This makes it more difficult  to keep your teeth clean. When tartar collects above the gum line, the gum tissue can become swollen and may bleed. This is called gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease. You can prevent plaque buildup by regularly visiting the dentist, brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth with dental floss daily.
RealAge
Administration
Plaque and tartar must be removed from your teeth promptly or they can cause serious problems. Plaque is a sticky, clear film full of bacteria that builds up on teeth. Bacteria produces acid that destroys a tooth's protective coating, called enamel. Over time, failing to remove plaque can lead to tooth decay and cavities, and can lead to more serious health problems.

Plaque that's allowed to remain on teeth can harden into a destructive substance called tartar that forms along the gum line. You can't remove tartar by brushing; it must be cleaned by your dentist or dental hygienist. The bacteria in plaque and tartar can promote inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. This mild form of gum disease can deteriorate into a more serious condition called periodontitis. Untreated periodontitis can result in bone loss and lost teeth.

Continue Learning about Healthy Oral Hygiene

Healthy Oral Hygiene

Healthy Oral Hygiene

Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily constitute the basics of good oral hygiene. Keeping other parts of your mouth, such as your gums, healthy can benefit your overall health by preventing the spread of germs and dis...

ease. At-home care should be supplemented by professional care. When plaque or tartar develops, a dentist or oral hygienist will use special tools to scrape (scale) the teeth clean without damage. Flouride treatment can help keep teeth cavity-free. Learn more about healthy oral hygiene with expert advice from Sharecare.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.