What is Tartar Buildup on Teeth?

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Tartar is a hard mineral deposit that forms on teeth when they are regularly exposed to plaque. A rough, bumpy line at the base of the teeth is one sign. However, tartar also forms below the gumline. Dental hygienists can remove tartar buildup on teeth, and good oral care helps prevent it from returning.

What is Tartar?

Plaque that is not removed from the teeth changes into tartar over time. As the University of Rochester Medical Center explains, plaque is made of saliva, bacteria, food debris and acid produced by those bacteria that are exposed to sugary and starchy foods. Tartar is plaque that has mineralized. According to Robert. P. Langlais, DDS, MS and Craig S. Miller, DMD, MS, of the University of Kentucky, tartar is mostly mineralized dead bacteria, along with a small amount of mineralized proteins from saliva. Chemically, tartar is made of calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and magnesium phosphate.

Signs of Tartar Buildup

Tartar feels like a rough substance in the mouth that brushing alone will not remove. It also irritates the gums, causing inflammation, bleeding and eventually gum disease. When tartar appears below the gumline, it can cause raised swellings that may bleed. Buildup above the gumline is yellow or tan and grows larger if not removed. Below the gumline, it may be brown or black.

Removing Tartar

Only dental professionals can successfully remove tartar buildup on teeth through a process called scaling. The University of Missouri outlines the procedure: The dental hygienist scrapes off tartar above and below the gumline with specially shaped hand-held scaling tools. Hygienists may also use an electronic instrument that emits ultrasonic vibrations to break up large tartar deposits, which creates a sensation on the teeth. The tip of the ultrasonic instrument becomes hot, so a water spray is used to cool down the tip to effectively remove plaque and tartar from the mouth.

Preventing Tartar

Regular brushing, flossing and dental visits help prevent tartar from returning. Brushing twice a day with a toothpaste formulated to fight tartar, such as Colgate® Tartar Protection Whitening, along with flossing once a day, removes plaque before it can mineralize into tartar. Visiting a dentist every six months or as often as recommended allows your dentist to see if tartar is coming back advise you on your brushing technique.

According to North Shore LIJ, tartar leads to tooth decay, cavities and gum disease. If you see signs of tartar on your teeth, book an appointment to have it removed. Preventing tartar buildup prevents it from turning into something more serious.

Learn more about tartar buildup in the Colgate Oral Care resources.