If you’ve looked in the mirror and seen black stuff around your gums, you’re probably pretty scared. What’s going on? Are all your teeth going to fall out? You haven’t been to the dentist for a while? Is it too late to get help?
The black you see on your teeth is most likely black tartar. And while black tartar isn’t a good thing, there is help available. Don’t panic, call your dentist, and ask to be seen.
What is tartar, and why is mine black?
Every mouth is home to many colonies of bacteria. Some of these colonies are good, some are neutral, and some are harmful. Harmful bacteria cling to your teeth as they grow, and the colonies form a plaque of living bacteria. Over time, if the plaque isn’t removed, it can harden into tartar.
Researchers have found that tartar is not just dead, calcified bacteria. It contains living bacterial cultures as well. When Tartar gets close to or under your gums, the living bacteria in it can infect your gum tissue and lead to the early stages of gum disease.
When the tartar irritates your gums and makes them bleed, it can become stained and look black. Black tartar is not inherently more dangerous than white tartar, but it’s a sign that you need to see a dentist.
How can I get rid of my tartar?
Once your teeth have tartar instead of plaque, you can’t remove it yourself. Your only option is to call a dentist and make an appointment for a cleaning. If you haven’t seen a dentist in a while, be sure to mention that you have a lot of tartar so that they can block out enough time for your appointment. If you want to be seen quickly, you may have to call several offices. Find someone who can see you soon, since ignoring tartar will lead to more damage to your gums.
Once you’re at the dental office, the hygienists will remove the tartar from your gums. They may scrape, or they may use an ultrasonic cleaner. After they’ve cleaned your teeth, they’ll talk to you about brushing, flossing, and rinses to prevent tartar from forming in the future.
After my appointment, what should I do to prevent black tartar in the future?
To prevent bacterial plaques from turning into black tartar, you can either prevent them from forming in the first place or get better at removing them from your teeth.
The bacteria in your mouth metabolize sugar for energy. The more sugar you eat, the more you’re feeding the bacteria. One way to stop bacterial growth is by using products with xylitol, a false sugar. When the bacteria in your mouth encounter xylitol, they try to use it for energy. However, it has no nutrition for them and they starve to death. Many sugar-free gums and candies use xylitol, however, most don’t contain it in therapeutic amounts. CariFree makes xylitol gum and candies that contain enough of the chemical to impede bacterial growth and prevent plaque and tartar.
Regular brushing and flossing can also prevent plaque and tartar from forming. Some hygienists recommend electric toothbrushes or water-jet tooth cleaners for more efficient plaque removal.
If these at-home methods don’t successfully prevent black tartar from forming, you may need more regular dental cleanings. Some people need a dental cleaning every 3 months instead of every six months. Talk to your dentist, and see if you’re a candidate for more frequent dental cleanings.
Black tartar isn’t a reason for shame. It’s a warning that your teeth and gums need attention. By scheduling regular dental appointments, brushing and flossing well, and using xylitol-based products, you can prevent black tartar from returning and ensure the long-term health of your teeth and gums.