Plaque is a sticky substance that builds up on the teeth. If it's not removed through brushing and flossing, it hardens. This hardened plaque is known as tartar or dental calculus. Tartar can have negative effects on your oral health, so it shouldn't be allowed to build up. No matter what you may hear or read, it's not a good idea to remove tartar at home.
How Tartar Affects Oral Health
When tartar is allowed to build up on the teeth and along the gumline, serious oral health conditions can develop. Tartar provides a stickier and rough surface for plaque to adhere to. Since plaque can lead to conditions like gum disease and cavities, this is a serious concern.
Tartar can also pose cosmetic problems. Since tartar is porous, it can easily absorb stains. When you drink highly pigmented beverages, like tea or coffee, your tartar can darken.
DIY Ways to Remove Tartar at Home
Once plaque hardens into tartar, it can't be removed with a toothbrush. People who are concerned about tartar may be tempted by DIY tartar-removal products, like dental tool kits. "Natural" remedies, such as strawberries, vinegar or sesame seeds, are also sometimes suggested. While these ingredients and products are readily available, it's not a good idea to use them. That's because it takes a lot of education and training to safely remove tartar. Dental hygienists have to attend college, and typically study for a minimum of two years and most dental hygiene programs also offer bachelor and master degrees as well, explains the American Dental Association (ADA). Education aside, a person probing sharp or inappropriate tools into their own mouth can easily damage their teeth or gums.
Tartar can be safely removed at your dentist's office. The dental hygienist or dentist will use manual scaling tools or an ultrasonic device to remove it from your teeth and at and below the gumline. If cost is a concern, there are many options for affordable dentistry, such as dental schools. At dental schools, supervised students provide low-cost care to gain clinical experience.
Ways to Prevent Tartar Buildup
While you can't safely remove tartar at home, you can take steps to prevent it from building up in the first place. With a good oral hygiene routine, plaque can be removed before it has a chance to harden. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Since your toothbrush can't reach all your tooth and gum surfaces, remember to floss once a day, too. If you have trouble using traditional floss, talk to your dental hygienist about alternative tools, like interdental brushes.
Even if you have excellent brushing and flossing habits, you still need to see your dentist regularly for checkups. At these appointments, any plaque you missed with your toothbrush and floss can be removed.
Tartar can contribute to serious oral health conditions, and there's no safe way to remove it at home. See your dentist regularly to have your tartar professionally and safely removed by your dental hygienist.