Tartar on teeth is a common problem that dentists see every day, but few people know what it is or why it is a problem. This is too bad since tartar is not only a sign of poor hygiene habits but also the beginning stage of other more severe problems, like gum disease.
What is Tartar?
Tartar (sometimes called calculus) is a rough, porous mineral buildup that forms on your teeth at or below the gum line. Tartar forms when plaque stays on your teeth and hardens. But unlike plaque, which is hard to see, tartar takes on a yellowish or brownish color.
Roughly 68% of all adults have tartar to some degree. Younger children and older adults are more at risk, as are smokers, people with orthodontic work, and people with dry mouth.
Why Tartar is an Oral Health Problem to Take Seriously
While tartar is not immediately harmful or dangerous, it can create a number of problems down the road if you do not take care of it:
- Tartar gives dental plaque more surface area on which to stick, which in turn gives bacteria a nice place to grow.
- That same bacteria can, in turn, cause cavities and irritate your gums, eventually leading to gum disease.
- Because tartar is porous, like a cotton shirt or a granite countertop, it absorbs stains easily. Coffee, tea, and cigarette smoke will be the most noticeable.
- Tartar can make it harder to brush and floss like you should. This can lead to even more cavities and tooth decay.
What Can You Do About Tartar on Teeth?
Most people can feel or see tartar on their own teeth…if it’s bad, and if they take the time to find it. More often, people find out about tartar from their dentist during a regular check-up. The same goes for finding out about tartar on children’s teeth.
Dealing with tartar, then, requires two strategies: removing existing tartar, and preventing future tartar and plaque buildup on teeth.
Removing existing tartar on teeth is best done by a dentist or dental hygienist. He or she will use special instruments to remove the tartar from your teeth both above and below the gumline. This process is called scaling.
Preventing future tartar and plaque buildup on teeth is easy if you adopt good oral health habits. For example:
- Brushing at least twice a day removes the plaque that creates tartar. Be sure to brush those hard-to-reach places behind your teeth and on your rear molars.
- Try an electronic or powered toothbrush. These can provide a bit more power behind the bristles, which make them good options for older adults and children who might not have the full strength to brush well.
- Use a toothpaste with tartar control (with fluoride). These are readily available in most stores that sell toothpaste.
- Use a rinse. A good rinse will help kill the bacteria in plaque, especially in hard-to-reach places. Look for a rinse that says “antiseptic” on the label.
- Floss. Yes, it can be time-consuming, but you’ll be amazed at the food and bits of tartar you remove.
- Watch those snacks. The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugary and starchy foods; this is how plaque starts. So, try to cut down on the sugar, and get in the habit of brushing after these kinds of snacks.
- Visit a dentist regularly. A dental visit can reveal tartar build-up, which can give you clues as to how to brush better to prevent future tartar.
Enough with Tartar
Now you should be able to easily answer ‘what is tartar’ and better understand the risks it plays in your oral health. Tartar is unhealthy and, frankly, kind of gross. Take steps to prevent its growth, both for yourself and your loved ones. Your overall oral health will benefit.