Tartar is the form of calcified dental plaque that lines surfaces of teeth. Cumulation of tartar on teeth may lead to oral problems such a gum inflammation, bad breath, bleeding, and pain. Home remedies, such as the use of baking soda, tomato or apple cider vinegar, are believed to help scour the tartar. But it is not wise to practice such unorthodox techniques.
Soft plaque can be cleansed by tooth brushing or flossing; however hardened tartar cannot be eliminated by these techniques. It requires the methods of hand-scaling or ultrasonic scaling that is performed by trained personnel such as a dentist or dental hygienist to get rid of tartar.
What is tartar?
Plaque is the thin sticky film that coats surfaces of teeth almost immediately post consumption of any food substances.
This layer of plaque on teeth allows for adhesion and multiplication of bacteria that may lead to several periodontal abnormalities within the oral cavity.
How is tartar formed?
Various factors influence the formation of tartar such as age, diet, location in the oral cavity, oral hygiene, medication and systemic diseases to name a few.
Calculus or tartar results from the precipitation of salts that leads to the development of tenacious hard deposits on the tooth surface. (1)
Saliva and gingival “crevicular” fluid found in the gingival sulcus is consequential to the formation of the tartar.
Types of tartar
Based on the location, calculus is categorized as –
It is found above the gumline and is more abundant in the buccal (outer) surfaces of upper molars or lingual ( tongue) surfaces of lower anterior teeth.
This predilection is attributed to the proximity of these areas to salivary glands that contribute to high salivary flow. It is the more ubiquitous form of calculus.
It is found below the gumline and characteristically may appear dark green or black and thus hinders the aesthetics of the oral cavity.
Repercussions of tartar build-up
Tartar that has formed on the teeth creates a breeding ground for bacteria which leads to a series of detrimental effects on the oral cavity.
Calculus accumulation causes gingiva to become red and inflamed. This condition is commonly known as gingivitis.
If the condition is left untreated, it progressively damages the fibrous connections between the gums and the underlying bone leading to a condition known as periodontitis.
If tartar removal is ignored for long, it may also cause bad breath, bleeding, and pain.
Tartar is also found to be permeable to staining foods such as tea or coffee, causing it to darken and create aesthetic problems.
Gum problems caused due to plaque or calculus are often reversible, and patients exhibit improved oral health with decreased bleeding and swelling soon after calculus is removed.
Hence it is essential to prevent such tartar build up, and removal should be a primary requisite.
What is the most efficacious way to remove tartar?
A question that is often raised is whether tartar can be safely removed at home?
There are tartar removal kits and ingredients available in the market, but it is not wise to perform this without any expertise or training especially since the sharp instruments could cause trauma to the delicate oral tissues.
Improper use of these tools often leads to impingement of the calculus against the gums causing gum recession and consequent pain and bleeding.
Also, you can remove hardened plaque just by toothbrushing or flossing. It requires the method of hand or ultrasonic scaling that is taught to dentists in their 4-5 year training program in dental schools.
Tartar removal is a technique sensitive process and only a dentist or dental hygienist who has been trained to perform the procedure should be entrusted with it.
How do dentists remove tartar?
Calculus removal is done utilizing tools such as scalers, curettes, hoes, chisels, etc.
Sickle scalers are commonly used to remove supragingival calculus while curettes are more effective in eliminating bands of subgingival calculus.
For effective elimination of the tartar, it is essential for clinicians to ensure that the instruments being used are sharp and sterile.
It is also crucial for the clinician to understand the workings and design of the instruments being used for better adaptability and grasp.
More advanced technology makes use of ultrasonic scalers to remove calculus deposits on the teeth.
It is useful in getting rid of tenacious calculus and may be used in adjunction with hand scaling for even better results.
What can one do at home?
While it is not advisable to remove tartar at home, one can follow specific oral care tips at home to prevent tartar from building up.
Practice regular and thorough toothbrushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and an effective toothpaste.
This should be followed by regular flossing in the interdental areas and other areas that may be inaccessible to the toothbrush. (3)
There are many other useful interdental aids that one may use after consulting their dentists.
Compound your oral care routine along with regular visits to your dentist to make sure any tartar that you may have missed is removed as well.
Tartar can have a deleterious effect on your oral health. There is no safe and effective way to remove it at home.
Be regular with your dental checkups and have the tartar removed safely and professionally by your dentist or dental hygienist.