Tartar is a hard, mineralized substance that builds up on teeth when plaque is not removed. It appears above and below the gumline, and its position can affect its color. In particular, black tartar on teeth usually appears below the gumline.
What Is Tartar?
Tartar forms from plaque, but it is a different texture and is not easy to remove. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), plaque is a mixture of saliva, bacteria, foods and acids that bacteria produce from sugar and starch. It is sticky, but regular brushing and flossing the teeth removes it. If plaque is not removed, it hardens and forms tartar. Only dental professionals can remove tartar; brushing and flossing do not affect it. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums, causing inflammation and gum disease.
The color of tartar depends on its age and where it appears in the mouth. Drs. Robert P. Langlais and Craig S. Miller of the University of Kentucky explain that tartar above the gumline is yellow or tan. Dentists call this supragingival calculus. It often appears where saliva flows into the mouth, such as on the inner surface of the lower front teeth and the outer surface of the molars. Subgingival calculus is tartar that appears below the gumline. According to Drs. Langlais and Miller, this tartar can be brown, black or green. However, all forms of tartar darken in color and expand in size over time.
Black tartar is made of the same substances as lighter-colored variants, but it includes other materials from surrounding fluids. Though any tartar is made of mineralized dead bacteria and salivary proteins, tartar below the gumline is also exposed to blood, blood by-products from breakdown and gingival crevicular fluid, which is the fluid that flows between the gums and teeth in the sulcus or pocket. In RDH Magazine, Diana J. Lamoreux says gingival crevicular fluid is excreted by connective tissues, and while it can appear in healthy tissue, it most often occurs after plaque is not removed and the gums become inflamed.
Removing and Preventing Black Tartar
Dental hygienists and other dental professionals can remove black tartar, and good oral care and regular dentist visits help prevent it from returning. Dental professionals remove tartar with hand tools (dental scalers) and ultrasonic instruments, which cause microvibrations that break down the crystallized material.
You can help prevent plaque and tartar build up by flossing daily and brushing twice a day with a toothpaste such as Colgate® Tartar Protection with Whitening Toothpaste, in which its unique formula fights cavities and tartar build up. Similarly, visiting a dentist every six months, or as often as recommended, for professional tartar examination and cleaning also helps control buildup.
Black tartar on teeth is unpleasant, but it is not difficult to get rid of. Treating tartar is straightforward, and it prevents dental problems from worsening. Visit your dentist for a professional cleaning if you suspect you have black tartar.
Learn more about tartar control in the Colgate Oral Care resources.