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Tartar (Dental Calculus)

A bigger problem arises if plaque is allowed to remain on your teeth and harden. That can happen after just 26 hours.
When this occurs, the plaque hardens into tartar, or dental calculus. Because it has mineralized onto your teeth, tartar is far more difficult to remove than plaque.

What effects does tartar (dental calculus) have on teeth and gums?

Once tartar forms on your teeth, it may be more difficult for you to brush and floss your teeth effectively. If this is the case, the acids released by the bacteria in your mouth are more likely to break down your tooth enamel. That leads to cavities and tooth decay. The CDC estimates that more than 90% percent of adults over the age of 40 have some form of tooth decay.

Tartar that develops above the gum line can be especially serious. That’s because the bacteria it harbors may irritate and damage your gums. Over time, this inflammation can lead to progressive gum disease. Gum disease can have serious consequences if left untreated. According to the CDC, between 5% and 11% of the adult population suffers from advanced gum disease.

The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. This is the initial stages of gum inflammation caused by the presence of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Gingivitis can usually be stopped and reversed with careful brushing, flossing, and regular cleanings by dental professionals.

If tartar is not removed and gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress into a more serious form of gum disease. That more serious form is known as periodontitis. With this gum disease, pockets form between the gums and teeth. Those pockets become infected by bacteria beneath the gums. The body’s immune system releases chemicals to fight the bacteria. These chemicals along with the substances the bacteria release can damage the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. This can lead ultimately to tooth loss and bone degradation. In addition, studies have shown that bacteria in gum disease may contribute to heart disease as well as other conditions.

Are there any tips and techniques that can help control tartar?

The best way to prevent the serious effects of tartar on your teeth is to prevent tartar from forming. Here’s how:

  • Brush regularly using the proper technique. A quick, 30-second brushing of your teeth morning and night is not enough to remove dental plaque and prevent tartar build-up. Use a brush with soft bristles that is small enough to reach all the areas in your mouth. Be sure to include the hard-to-reach surfaces behind your teeth and on your rear molars.

Studies have found that electronic, or powered, toothbrushes may be more effective than manual toothbrushes for plaque removal. Regardless of which type of toothbrush you use, be sure it has the American Dental Association seal of approval. These models have undergone rigorous quality control and safety tests.

  • Opt for tartar-control toothpaste with fluoride. Toothpastes containing pyrophosphates can help prevent plaque from hardening into tartar. Additionally, the fluoride in the formula will help repair any damage to your enamel that may have already occurred. Some formulas also contain triclosan. That’s an antibiotic that fights the bacteria in plaque.
  • Floss, floss, floss. No matter how diligent you are about brushing your teeth, only flossing daily can remove the plaque between your teeth and prevent tartar formation in these difficult-to-reach areas.
  • Watch your diet. The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugary and starchy foods. When they are exposed to those foods, they release damaging acids. Try to eat a healthy diet and limit the amount of sugar-containing foods you eat. Be mindful of snacking, too, since every time you eat you are also feeding the bacteria in your mouth.

You don’t have to forgo sweets or between meals munches entirely. Just be mindful about how often you indulge and be diligent about brushing your teeth. Drinking plenty of water during and after meals may also help minimize plaque build-up.

  • Don’t smoke. Studies show that people who smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products are more likely to have dental calculus on their teeth and under their gums.

Once tartar has formed, it is important to realize that only a dental professional will be able to remove it from your teeth.
Make sure to visit your dentist every 3-6 months to remove any tartar that might have formed and prevent further complications.

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