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Oral Hygiene FAQ: What Is Dental Tartar?

November 3, 2021

Introduction

Dental tartar or tooth plaque is a microbial plaque and soft, sticky film that build upon the teeth when bacteria in the mouth mix with sugary or starchy foods.

Saliva, food & juices combine to generate bacteria deposits, which collect where the teeth and gums meet.

Composed of bacteria, which produce acids that attack your tooth enamel and can damage your gums, Plaque can destroy tooth enamel and cause cavities and gingivitis. 

Plaque, if not removed, hardens into tough-to-remove tartar and can also develop under the gums on tooth roots and break down the bones that support teeth. 

Proper oral hygiene, brushing and flossing can help get rid of plaque. Regular dental checkups protect teeth and can fight tartar.

How Is Dental Tartar Formed?

Rough and porous and yellow or brown, tartar is also known as dental calculus, which forms below and above the gum line.

Deposited on the teeth it traps stains which in turn, cause discolouration. Foods like milk, soft drinks, cake, and candies that contain sugars or starches are big contributors to the growth of plaque.

The stains can also be caused by certain foods like blueberries, coffee and other colour-rich foods.

The bacteria in the mouth release acids that break down carbohydrates present in food and drinks.

Inappropriate brushing of teeth combined with bacteria, acids and carbohydrates mix to form a sticky, colourless film called plaque.

How Common is Dental Plaque or Tartar?

Quite common, dental plaque is present in everyone to some extent. The murky feeling on the teeth when you run your tongue over them is plaque. 

When the plaque hardens, a yellow or brown coloured deposit called tartar or dental calculus builds up on your teeth.

Improper or irregular brushing and flossing can cause plaque to harden into tartar which can be removed only by a dental professional.

As the tartar buildup on teeth is strongly attached to the tooth enamel, only dental professionals can remove it.

People with braces, dry mouth, crowded teeth, smoking and ageing have a greater risk of developing tartar.

Who May Be More Likely to Get a Plaque?

Though everyone gets plaque there are more chances of developing plaque if you:

  • Eat foods or drinks rich in starch or sugar.
  • Have dry mouth due to medications
  • Have undergone head/neck radiation in the past.
  • You are a regular smoker

Also Read: Dentures- An Introduction

What Are the Symptoms of Dental Tartar?

A fuzzy feeling on the teeth is the topmost sign that you have plaque. Other signs are Chronic bad breath (halitosis), Red, swollen, tender gums that bleed after brushing.

What Are the Complications of Plaque and Tartar?

 Plaque and tartar can lead to:

  • Cavities.
  • Gingivitis and periodontal (gum) disease.
  • Severe gum infection (periodontitis).
  • Tooth decay and loss.
  • Tooth infection (abscessed tooth).

How Is It Diagnosed?

During regular dental checkups, the dentist or dental hygienist uses instruments to find and remove plaque, which can cause cavities. Dental X-rays can also help to check for cavities.

How Are Plaque and Tartar Managed or Treated?

Maintaining optimal oral hygiene with regular brushing and flossing, removes plaque and prevents tartar buildup.

The dental professional can scrape plaque and tartar from teeth during a routine examination. 

Dental sealants can also help keep plaque from forming on the top chewing surfaces of teeth.

Dry mouth medications can be prescribed to increase saliva production.

Fluoride treatments can also help slow the growth of plaque-causing bacteria & stop tooth decay.

The process of removing the tartar is called scaling. Special instruments and methods are used to remove the tartar by dentists, who are well trained for the process.

How Can I Prevent Plaque Buildup?

Plaque can be reduced by good tooth and gum care.

Floss Daily

Flossing daily with dental floss or a water flosser helps to get rid of food and plaque stuck between teeth. 

Brush Twice a Day

A diligent two-minute brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, twice daily and preferably after every meal is recommended to reduce plaque.

Chew Sugarless Gum

In case you cannot brush immediately after eating or drinking, chew sugar-free gum with American Dental Association (ADA) seal.

Choose Healthy Foods

Reduce sugary, starchy foods and drinks. Rather, select healthy foods and snacks such as plain yoghurt, cheese, raw vegetables or fruit.

See Your Dentist

Make sure to get regular dental checkups at least twice a year.

Use Mouthwash

Rinse your mouth with an over-the-counter or prescription antiseptic mouthwash.

Avoid foods that can cause stains.

Use a tartar control mouthwash daily.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

You should consult your dentist in case you experience:

  • Persistent bad breath.
  • Facial swelling.
  • Loose tooth.
  • Pain or difficulty chewing.
  • Redness around or inside the mouth.
  • Swollen gums that bleed or any other signs of gum disease.
  • Toothache or mouth pain.
  • Sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold foods or drinks.

Bottom Line

The mouth bacteria present in everyone cause plaque. Proper oral hygiene can help remove plaque and prevent serious dental problems.

As plaque can result in cavities, dental tartar and gum disease, periodic dental checkups are important.

Undetected and untreated plaque and tooth decay could develop into a painful gum infection or lost teeth.

Tartar doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. You can improve your overall dental health, your confidence, and the way you look by keeping tartar away.

Dr Sheena Gaur at Kirkland Premier Dentistry has a wide experience at the plaque and has been helping people maintain confident smiles for years now. We also provide emergency dentistry services at Kirkland Premier Dentistry.

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