Black Tartar on Teeth

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.

Tartar Color

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

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.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.