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How to Prevent Tartar Buildup on Your Teeth

Learn ways to keep ahead of tartar buildup

What is Tartar Buildup?

Tartar, also called calculus, occurs when plaque is not thoroughly removed and hardens on your teeth. It can coat the part of your teeth that you see above the gums and invade the space below the gumline. It can also stick to your fillings or other dental work. You may see tartar buildup behind and between your teeth that appears chalky white, yellow or brown in color. Once tartar is present, a professional cleaning is necessary to remove it.

How Does Tartar Form?

Tartar buildup starts with bacteria. Bacteria naturally live in your mouth and when left long enough it forms into colonies. These bacteria, along with proteins from your saliva and food byproducts, forms the soft and sticky film known as plaque. Brushing and flossing as directed by your dentist should remove this soft plaque. However, when this plaque is not completely removed, the calcium naturally present in your saliva can cause it to harden into what is commonly referred to as tartar buildup.

Though tartar can develop on any surface of our teeth, it commonly builds up behind the front teeth and near the gum line of our molars, where our saliva ducts are located. Tartar affects the soft tissue of your mouth, especially your gums. Tartar near your gums can cause inflammation and can eventually lead to gum disease.

How Can I Remove Tartar Buildup?

Unfortunately, once plaque has hardened into tartar, it usually takes a dental professional to remove it. Dentists and hygienists have a variety of tools and techniques that they may utilize, depending on the severity of the buildup.

  • A prophylaxis, or routine/preventive cleaning is the most common and least unpleasant type of cleaning
  • If you have swollen, inflamed gums that bleed when probed and no bone loss, you may need a more specific type of cleaning procedure because of the inflammation.
  • If your dentist is unable to complet a comprehensive exam due to the amount of tartar present, you may need a full mouth debridement instead.
  • If the tartar has reached far below the gum line and you have lost bone, you may need a deep cleaning (scaling and root planning) with anesthesia.

How Can I Avoid Tartar Buildup?

The easiest way to prevent tartar buildup is to brush your teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day and floss at least once daily. This oral care routine will remove the bacteria-filled plaque from your teeth, which could eventually harden into tartar. Some mouthwashes can also assist in killing bacteria in the mouth, preventing it from colonizing, thus reducing plaque and the risk of tartar build up. Each person produces plaque at a different rate, so tartar build up can develop for even the best brushers. To keep tartar in check, it is important to visit your dentist for routine cleanings at least twice a year, or as otherwise directed by your dentist.

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.