Author: Lizzie Smith – blog last updated on Monday 22nd May 2023
What is tartar?
Tartar is hardened dental plaque. Dental plaque is a soft, sticky substance comprising mouth bacteria, food debris and saliva. If plaque isn’t removed, it hardens under the influence of minerals such as calcium and phosphates in the saliva. While you can still easily remove plaque, you’re unable to remove tartar. Instead, it has to be mechanically chipped off.
What are the causes of tartar?
Tartar can’t form if there’s no dental plaque on the teeth in the first place. So dental plaque is the cause of tartar. However, one person may suffer more from tartar than another. So, this goes to show there are other factors involved.
In this article, we’re going to look at these factors. We’ll also look at how you can prevent tartar as much as possible and what you can do if you already have it.
Deficient oral hygiene
After 48 hours, residual plaque can harden into tartar. And whilst you might think you’re doing the right thing by brushing your teeth two or three times a day, a toothbrush can’t remove all the plaque from your teeth.
To clean your teeth properly, you should also floss or brush your teeth daily with a different kind of toothbrush called an interdental brush.
If you find this difficult, a floss bow might be better. A floss bow makes it easy to clean the interdental spaces properly, as well as the sulcus, which is the space between your teeth and gums. You can also ask your dental hygienist for advice on removing plaque from areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
People who consume a lot of sugar increase their risk of tartar. This is because sugars are food for the mouth bacteria, which convert them into acids. These acids attack the enamel, which not only causes caries (cavities) to occur, but they also make the teeth rougher. The rougher the teeth, the better the plaque can adhere, resulting in more tartar.
When we talk about sugars, we’re not just talking about sweets, fruit and soft drinks. Carbohydrates from a healthy meal are also broken down into sugars. Under the influence of saliva, this breakdown starts in the mouth, and the sugars also act as food for the bacteria. Therefore, it’s a good idea to rinse your mouth with water after a meal, soft drink or snack.
Acidity in the mouth
The pH levels in the mouth are extremely sensitive, so it’s essential to ensure they are balanced. With a high acidity (low pH levels), bacteria and dental plaque have a greater chance, but at the same time, acids can dissolve tartar. The disadvantage is that acids also affect your tooth enamel, so you must have a low acidity (high pH levels.) to prevent this. Low acidity is conducive to tartar.
It’s generally assumed that the pH level should be neutral: pH 7 is neither acidic nor alkaline. To achieve this, toothpaste often contains neutral ingredients, such as sodium bicarbonate. Your own saliva also works to stabilise the acidity.
Because a lower acidity protects your tooth enamel but promotes the formation of tartar, it’s essential to remove dental plaque daily. And to regularly remove or have removed the tartar that will inevitably form.
As you get older, your teeth get rougher. This means plaque sticks more easily to the tooth enamel and, if not removed, hardens into tartar. Furthermore, from age 35, there’s more calcium in your saliva. Calcium is a mineral that causes dental plaque to harden into tartar.
In addition, dry mouth complaints are indirectly related to age because they can be caused by medication and medical treatments. A shortage of saliva is, therefore, more common in older people and can contribute to increased tartar forming. On the other hand, with sufficient saliva, dental plaque is washed away faster, and the acidity in the mouth also remains more balanced.
How to prevent tartar
The most important thing you can do to prevent tartar from forming is to clean your teeth properly every day. This will remove dental plaque, and removed dental plaque can no longer become tartar. Also, keep your mouth hydrated, especially as you get older. Finally, if you have a shortage of saliva, tackle these dry mouth complaints with special toothpaste, mouthwash, and an anti-dry mouth spray.
Even if you don’t have dry mouth complaints, it’s still a good idea to chew dental care chewing gum throughout the day. Doing so not only removes dental plaque, but the xylitol component works effectively to stop bacteria from sticking to your tooth enamel. In addition, the fresh, cool taste of xylitol stimulates your salivary glands. Choose Moist-R Hydrating Chewing or Moist-R Xylitol tablets for Dry Mouth to protect your teeth and gums between brushings.
Removing tartar or having it removed for you
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, some tartar deposits can’t be prevented. For example, on the back of your lower front teeth as this is where the salivary glands emit saliva. Another common place for tartar to accumulate is the back of your molars, which is hard to reach by usual brushing.
This is why it’s advisable to have your teeth cleaned regularly by a dentist or dental hygienist. Having your teeth cleaned regularly prevents the tartar from growing under your gums and causing gingivitis and other problems.
From a cost perspective, you may want to remove tartar yourself. This can be done gently and safely with the Moist-R Whitening Sponge. Using nano-capillary tubes, this sponge cleans your teeth deeply when it comes into contact with water. Although removing dental plaque is quick and easy, to remove tartar and discolourations, you’ll have to use the sponge more intensively.
You can also use the Profi Dental Hook, a complete set of two stainless steel dental hooks and a mouth mirror, but you do need a steady hand.
Both of these methods will only remove the supragingival tartar – the tartar on the tooth enamel. For sub-gingival tartar and any pockets and inflammations that arise, you’ll need to consult your dentist.
British Dental Association: Myth busters on brushing your teeth
British Dental Journal: Dental calculus – oral health, forensic studies and archaeology: a review