Tartar 101: How to Prevent, Remove and Control Buildup

Tartar is one of those words we’ve been conditioned to know is bad news whenever we hear it in conjunction with our teeth. Of course, knowing that it’s a bad word to hear when talking about our oral health and knowing exactly what it is and why that’s bad are not even close to the same thing. Before you reach blindly for any product on the shelf of the drugstore or grocery store shelf hoping to banish this particular difficulty from your days, it’s worth taking a moment to learn what tartar really is, how it develops, what are the risks to your health from having it, how to avoid it, how to get rid of it if it develops, and what products have been shown to actually make a difference for people trying to control tartar.

So, What is Tartar?

Tartar, also known as calculus, is a type of buildup on your teeth. When you eat and drink, you feed the bacteria that live in your mouth. They, in turn, produce a sticky, acidic substance called plaque. If you don’t remove plaque every day, it can harden and turn into hard, discolored film on your teeth called plaque.

How Does Tartar Develop?

Tartar is a direct consequence of not removing all the plaque that you can from your teeth. If you have poor brushing and flossing skills, you are far more likely to develop tartar. If you avoid regular dental cleanings and checks, you miss the opportunity to keep tartar from forming and building up on your teeth. If you have a high bacterial load in your oral environment, you will build up plaque faster, which in turn puts you at a higher risk for developing tartar.

So, Why is Tartar Dangerous to Your Oral Health?

Tartar irritates your gums. It holds oral bacteria up against your gums. This can lead to inflammation and gum disease. The hard tartar also pushes the gums away from the tooth, making pockets that hold bacteria and irritants, worsening gum disease. Gum disease treatment with plaque buildup frequently requires a deep cleaning and takes a long time to heal. Advanced gum disease can also lead to tooth loss and, in extreme cases, bone loss in the jaw. Gum disease also is correlated with increased heart disease risk, so it’s not just your oral health at stake. Your overall health is involved, too.

How Do You Avoid Tartar?

Avoiding it is the best possible choice. The best way to keep tartar at bay is simple—brush twice a day every day, floss every day, and keep up your regular dental care visit schedule. You can also avoid oral conditions favorable to plaque overgrowth, like frequent eating and dry mouth.

How Do You Get Rid of Tartar?

Unfortunately, there is no safe home method for removing tartar. Once your plaque has hardened into tartar, you need an appointment with your dental care team to remove the calculus.

What Products Can Help You Avoid Tartar?

There is some evidence that specially formulated tartar control toothpaste can help slow tartar formation more than plain fluoride toothpaste. If your dentist has found you to have a bacterial imbalance, treating the bacterial overgrowth with oral care products specially formulated provide antibiotic therapy can help you avoid tartar by treating the underlying condition that makes you more susceptible to plaque and, by extension, tartar. If you are a frequent eater, consider chewing xylitol gum after eating to try to reduce the damage done by constant pH changes. Xylitol gum can also help with dry mouth, as can sipping water throughout the day. Still, it’s worth remembering that no product is a substitute for regular dental care with a professional care team.

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