Tartar buildup presents itself as large deposits of a hard, yellow substance that takes over the teeth. It may form between the teeth, taking over and making your teeth look like one big, solid piece. Tartar loves to form behind the teeth or in the molars, areas where it may be a little more difficult to brush thoroughly.
Once tartar forms, your teeth are in serious jeopardy.
The good news is that tartar is an entirely preventable problem. Using the right oral hygiene products and adhering to great oral health practices will prevent tartar from forming.
What is the Difference Between Plaque and Tartar?
Plaque and tartar are different stages of the same problem. Plaque is the initial issue. When left untreated, that plaque becomes tartar.
How Plaque Forms
Plaque forms on your teeth when hungry bacteria enter your mouth. As off-putting as it may sound, this process is completely normal. Bacteria enter your mouth all day, no matter what you eat or drink or how often you wash your hands.
When they find their way into your mouth, they settle in on your teeth. They create a sticky film and use that film to catch the things they like to eat. Bacteria are particularly fond of sugars and starches.
This combination of bacteria fuel can come in the form of an ice cream cone, or as marinara sauce on pasta. Both healthy and unhealthy foods can supply bacteria with what they need.
The byproducts of bacteria’s food stay trapped in the sticky film they’ve left behind, along with the waste they’ve excreted. Bacteria turn sugar into acid, and that acid gets trapped to the tooth by plaque. The acid will erode the tooth, leading to cavities and tooth decay.
How Tartar Forms
Tartar is plaque that hasn’t been properly removed. The layer of plaque grows thicker over time, hardening with the minerals, starches, and sugars that stick to it. This layer encapsulates the tooth as it hardens, concentrating bad bacteria and decay on the enamel.
This process isn’t always a result of prolonged periods of bad dental hygiene. Plaque can begin to harden into tartar in as little as 12 hours. If you fail to brush your teeth for a single day, that one mishap can save serious consequences.
When tartar forms, the teeth have already been damaged by the plaque that began the process. There are no perfect, flawless pearly whites hiding under a layer of tartar. The extent of the damage largely depends on how long the tartar is left unchecked.
Some teeth are salvageable after tartar has been removed. Other teeth may be so significantly damaged that they will require major repair or even extraction.
Removing Plaque Versus Removing Tartar
Removing plaque is very easy. It’s the whole reason you’re supposed to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time. Removing tartar is a completely different process, and it’s one you’re not equipped to handle at home.
How to Remove Plaque
Plaque should be fully removed by practicing great oral hygiene. If you’re using a slightly abrasive toothpaste on a soft bristled brush twice a day, flossing nightly, and using a bacteria-killing mouthwash, you won’t even have to think twice about removing plaque. It will simply come off as a matter of course.
How to Remove Tartar
Tartar cements itself to your teeth. You cannot brush it away. You might see kits of dental tools at the store that call themselves tartar removers. Do not attempt to use these at home. Those metal hooks are likely to cause more damage than they fix. They’ll scrape and tear your gums and scratch the healthy surfaces of your teeth long before they even begin to remove tartar.
Tartar removal is a procedure your dentist needs to perform. Your dentist will use a high powered water jet tool to safely blast through plaque without damaging the tooth underneath. The remnants are removed from your mouth, and your dentist will evaluate the state of your teeth underneath the plaque.
If you need dental work to repair teeth that have been negatively impacted by plaque, that will be the next step.
How Do I Prevent Plaque From Taking Over?
Plaque cannot be completely avoided. It’s something that naturally happens within your mouth. Removing your plaque regularly and making it harder for plaque to form will keep tartar from having a chance to harden.
Destroying Bad Oral Bacteria
Bacteria cannot form tartar causing plaque if they’ve been destroyed. The majority of toothpastes do not contain ingredients designed to destroy bacteria. Triclosan has been used in the past, but the FDA frequently objects to it. Environmental agencies have noted that triclosan is easily converted to chloroform and poses a huge threat on the environment.
Alcohol-based mouthwashes are typically used to kill bacteria in the mouth, but they do a lot more than that. They’ll kill bad bacteria and good bacteria while disrupting the mouth’s natural biofilm. Alcohol completely upsets the environment. Additionally, alcohol is drying and may worsen gum irritation or cause pain for people with sensitive gums.
Nano silver is a natural and effective alternative. Nano silver is a natural bacteria-killing ingredient that can be included in both toothpastes and mouthwash. Small silver particles have their cores coated with a special material that allows them to steal all of the electrons away from a bacteria cell’s wall, causing it to implode. It does this without harming your biofilm, causing irritation, or upsetting your mouth’s natural balance.
Consider adding nano silver toothpaste or mouthwash to your oral care routine. It’s one of the safest and most effective tools in your bacteria management arsenal.
Brushing To Thoroughly Remove Plaque
You can’t really see plaque. It can be difficult to remove something that you don’t know is there. It isn’t like peeling paint off of a wall or washing sauce out of a pot. Your plaque is usually clear, and you won’t always be able to tell when it’s all gone.
If you want to check your brushing technique, you can use something called plaque disclosing tablets. These chewable dye tablets are usually used to train children how to brush, but they’re valuable for anyone who is concerned about tartar.
You chew up the tablet and watch as your old plaque turns blue and your new plaque turns red. Then, you brush away the stain. When you’re done, you can chew another tablet to audit your results.
Once you get a better feel for the method, duration, and pressure needed to fully brush plaque from your teeth, it will become muscle memory. It doesn’t hurt to periodically chew a plaque disclosing tablet after you’ve brushed to make sure you’re staying on the right track.
Brushing alone will not dislodge the bacteria and food debris hiding in the very tiny crevices between your teeth. You need to thoroughly floss these areas once daily to keep that bacteria from taking over your mouth.
If you have sensitive gums and pain keeps you from flossing as well as you should, switch to a water flossing device. Water flossers are gentle and effective. Loading them with warm water can actually help to soothe your gums. You might want to floss with a warm water flosser simply because it feels good.
Using Xylitol to Protect Your Teeth
Toothpaste can be sweetened with any number of ingredients. Most toothpaste manufacturers use sorbitol, because it’s easy to manufacture from corn syrup and doesn’t contain the kind of sugar that bacteria like to eat. It also doesn’t do anything to protect your teeth.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener derived from the wood of the birch tree. Xylitol coats your teeth in a completely harmless film. Bacteria cannot form their own film over top of the xylitol film. The xylitol acts as an effective natural barrier.
Just like sorbitol, xylitol doesn’t contain the sugars that bacteria find delicious. They cannot eat away at the protective film and find their way through. The film will naturally wash away over the course of the day when you eat and drink. If you keep xylitol gum or mints handy for after meals, you can replenish it as soon as it fades to give your teeth round the clock protection.
Tartar is dangerous and difficult to deal with. It can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, handing control of your mouth over to bad bacteria. Thoroughly removing plaque and managing oral bacteria are the only ways to prevent tartar from forming.
No matter how tired or busy you are, even if you’re running a little late for work, make time to take care of your mouth. You never know if today will be the day that tartar begins to form.