Many of our patients at Highgate Hill Dental Centre ask what more they can do at home to remove tartar from their teeth. Unfortunately, once plaque has calcified to become tartar, it is best removed by a professional. To understand why tartar prevention is most effective at home and tartar removal is best performed by your dentist, we must first understand what tartar is and how it is formed.
What is tartar?
The term tartar is often used interchangeably with calculus as they both refer to the hardened, mineralised form of plaque. The first step of tartar formation is the build-up of plaque. Plaque is a thin layer of bacteria that forms on our teeth in response to leftover sugars and residue from food. Do you ever notice a fuzzy coating on your teeth after you have forgotten to brush? That’s plaque! Lucky for us, it is easily removed with a good brush. Problems start to arise when plaque is not removed as it will mineralise, harden, and adhere to our teeth, forming a yellow-brown crystalline substance known as tartar.
Why is tartar harmful?
Tartar build up has the potential to cause a number of serious oral health conditions. The porous structure of tartar makes it the perfect surface for more plaque to accumulate. The bacteria present in plaque release acids that break down the tooth structure and if left for long enough can create cavities.
The presence of tartar not only affects the teeth, but also the gums. Tartar tends to first form between the teeth and on the gumlines. The presence of tartar, plaque, and bacteria irritates the gums resulting in inflammation and swelling, also known as gingivitis. If you notice that your gums bleed during or after brushing and flossing this could be an indication that your gums are inflamed and unhappy with their environment. If not treated, gingivitis has the potential to lead to periodontitis, a serious infection of the gums that can cause them to pull away from the teeth.
Aside from damaging the teeth, tartar is the cause of cosmetic concern for many people. Due to its yellow brown colour, tartar often has the appearance of generalised tooth staining. People are frequently surprised by what their teeth look like after all the tartar has been removed during a scale and clean.
Now we know what tartar is, how do we get rid of it?
Once plaque calcifies to form tartar, it must be removed by a dental professional. The soft bristles of a toothbrush are great at removing plaque, however tartar is much harder to control so needs tougher tools! Your dentist has a number of instruments to get rid of tartar including hand scalers and ultrasonic devices. Tartar removal can feel uncomfortable as tartar can hide between the teeth and under the gums but it always leaves your teeth feeling fresh and healthy.
How do I prevent tartar build up?
Here are some quick and easy tips to prevent tartar at home:
- Brush twice daily – once in the morning and once at night.
- Floss once daily (in the evening if you can!)
- Visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and clean.
- If you notice plaque (or calculus) building up on your teeth, ask your dentist for advice.
- Avoid smoking as it increases the amount of plaque and stains on your teeth.
As always, if you are concerned about plaque or tartar on your teeth, get in touch with one of our friendly dentists. Happy brushing and flossing and we’ll see you at your next check-up!