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Can You Dissolve Tartar? What Would Your Dental Hygienist Think?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Routine visits with your dental hygienist help keep your gums and teeth healthy. During cleaning appointments, one of the things your hygienist does is remove tartar buildup from your teeth. But can you dissolve tartar? And what would your dental hygienist think?

As you read on, we'll look into what tartar is, what role dential hygienists play, what tools dental professionals use to handle tartar, as well as the answer to the questions: can you dissolve tartar? And what will your hygienist think?

What is Tartar?

Tartar (aka dental calculus) is plaque that's not removed regularly that then hardens. But first, what is plaque? Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that forms on your teeth. Plaque houses bacteria and secretes acids, which can cause tooth decay and irritate gum tissue.

Tartar gradually builds on the teeth between dental visits as minerals in your saliva harden and calcify soft bacterial plaque. The most prevalent areas where tartar builds are where the major salivary glands are located in the mouth: the lower front teeth and inside the upper molars' cheeks.

Hygienists: Your Tartar Experts

A dental hygienist's role in dentistry is diverse and can vary from state to state. However, one universal part of that role is removing hard and soft deposits on the teeth. This involves loosening tartar on teeth and removing it. The detection and removal of tartar is critical for maintaining optimum periodontal (gum) health and preventing gum disease. And so, a hygienist's role is essential in your overall oral health care.

Tools of the Trade

Tartar is challenging to remove. So how do the professionals do it? Great question. Here are some tools of the trade that help them keep your teeth healthy and tartar free:

  • Hand instruments: You've probably seen your dental hygienist scrape off tartar with fine-tipped metal tools using a technique known as scaling. These tools are classic and effective.
  • Ultrasonic instruments: This technology uses a high-powered oscillating tip to remove buildup with micro-vibrations.
  • Perioscopy: This extremely tiny scope can probe into small areas between gums and teeth to examine calculus buildup on teeth' roots.

A friendly watch out for you: your dental hygienist has spent years training to remove tartar and perform other procedures. Attempting to use sharp tools in your own mouth can result in injuries to your teeth and gums. So always look to a professional for this type of care.

It's a Wash for Anti-Tartar Rinses

It would be nice to be able to wash tartar away, wouldn't it? The truth is the jury is still out on the effectiveness of tartar removal rinses. One study compared chlorhexidine's use — an antimicrobial mouth rinse widely used in dentistry — and a commercial anti-calculus mouth rinse. The study found that there was 47 % more new calculus and 10% more new plaque formed when using the antimicrobial mouth rinse versus the anti-calculus rinse.

Another study tested an anti-tartar rinse's effectiveness by soaking calculus samples in vitro or in the laboratory setting. A percentage of the mineral content of the tartar was dissolved in the rinse. But only after it had been soaking for 4.5 and 16 hours. This study was not conducted on a human mouth, and of course, no one wants to swish mouthwash for that long!

So, what would your hygienist think about dissolving your tartar? Well, as dental professionals do, they'll go with the research. If a mouth wash arises that research shows as a great option for dissolving tartar, they'll be all for it.

Until then, if you're wondering how to reduce the amount of tartar that forms on your teeth, the best thing you can do is to reduce plaque and calculus buildup in the first place. You can do this with proper home care and visiting the dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleanings. Brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily will go far in reducing the need to look for ways to remove tartar.

Plaque control directly relates to tartar prevention and is known to prevent cavities, gingivitis, and gum disease. That's why one of the things every hygienist does is to help you remove it. Remember that your dental hygienist is trained to use tools to help you remove your tartar and that trying to use sharp instruments in your mouth is dangerous. What about a rinse that that can dissolve tartar? It may be a useful addition in the future, but more research is needed before you'll find one on your drugstore shelves that your hygienist will approve. Good oral hygiene and regular dental visits are and will continue to be the best treatment. If tartar is something on your radar, see your hygienist and get proactive in taking care of it right away.


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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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