Tartar or Calculus is a form of hardened dental plague. It is caused by precipitation of minerals from saliva and gingival crevicular fluid (GCF) in plague on the teeth. This process of precipitation kills the bacterial cells within dental plague, but the rough and hardened surface that is formed provides an ideal surface for further plague formation. This leads to calculus buildup, which comprises the health of the gingival (gums).
Calculus can form both along the gumline, where it is refered to as supragingival (above the gum), and within the narrow sulcus that exists between the teeth and the gingival, where it is referred to as subgingival (below the gum).
Calculus formation is associated with a number of clinical manifestations, including bad breath, receding gums and chronically inflamed gingival. Brushing and flossing can remove plague from which calculus forms; however, once formed, it is too hard and firmly attached to be removed with a toothbrush. Calculu buildup can be removed with ultrasonic tools or dental hand instruments (such as a periodontal scaler).
The nature of tartar
The teeth, which are within the oral cavity, contain the only known anatomical aspect of the human body that does not have a regulated system of shedding surfaces. This allows numerous amounts of microorganisms to adhere to the surface of teeth for long periods of time. These multiple species of bacteria become dental biofilm. Dental biofilm, more commonly referred to as dental plaque, is composed of about a thousand bacteria that take part in the complex ecosystems of the mouth. The natural, non-frequent regulation of tooth shedding plays a large role in making dental biofilm the most diverse biofilm in the human body despite the relatively small size of the teeth. Dental plaque is a biofilm, usually a pale yellow that develops naturally on the teeth. Like any biofilm, dental plaque is formed by colonizing bacteria trying to attach themselves to a smooth surface of a tooth. At first, the biofilm is soft enough to come off by using finger nail. However, it starts to harden within 48 hours, and in about 10 days the plaque becomes dental calculus (tartar) rock-hard and difficult to remove. A tartar can give rise to dental caries (tooth decay)—the localised destruction of the tissues of the tooth by acid produced from the bacterial degradation of fermentable sugars—and periodontal problems such as gingivits and chronic periodontitis.
How does tartar affect teeth and gums?
Tartar can make it harder to brush and floss like you should. This can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Any tartar that forms above your gum line could be bad for you. That’s because the bacteria in it can irritate and damage your gums. Over time, this might lead to progressive gum disease.
The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. It can usually be stopped and reversed if you brush, floss, use an antiseptic mouthwash, and get regular cleanings from your dentist.
If not, it can get worse, to the point where pockets form between the gums and teeth and get infected by bacteria. That’s called periodontitis. Your immune system sends chemicals to fight back and they mix with bacteria and the stuff it puts out. The resulting stew can damage the bones and tissues that hold your teeth in place. Also, some studies link the bacteria in gum disease to heart disease and other health problems.
Tartar prevention and removal
The Dentifrice is any compound used for routine cleansing of teeth. The most common forms of dentifrices are pastes and powders. In general, toothpastes contain several ingredients: an insoluble polishing agent, a binder, flavouring, and a liquid to give plasticity. The polishing agents most commonly used are phosphate salts such as dicalcium phosphate, calcium pyrophosphate, and insoluble sodium metaphosphate. Gum tragacanth and seaweed derivatives or cellulose derivatives are employed as binders. A wide variety of flavouring oils is used to give products a distinctive and pleasant taste; in most pastes, saccharin or cyclamate is added for sweetening, and often both are used. For liquid, almost all toothpastes employ glycerin and water. Tooth powders are essentially identical with toothpaste except that they contain no liquid and that the binder is sometimes omitted.
The search for agents that could be combined with a dentifrice safely and effectively to prevent caries (tooth decay) led to long experimentation with various compounds, culminating in 1960 with the discovery that stannous fluoride was effective against tooth decay. In the 1980s dentifrices were introduced that contained (1) agents that improve the effectiveness of brushing by loosening plaque, and (2) antimicrobial chemicals that help to prevent plaque build-up.
Ways to control tartar
- Brush regularly, twice a day for 2 minutes a time. A 30-second scrub twice a day won’t remove plaque or prevent tartar. Use a brush with soft bristles that is small enough to fit into your mouth. Be sure to include the hard-to-reach surfaces behind your teeth and on your rear molars.
- Studies have found that electronic, or powered, toothbrushes may get rid of plaque better than manual models. No matter which type you use, be sure it has the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. These have undergone rigorous quality control and safety tests.
- Choose tartar-control toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride will help repair enamel damage. Some products have a substance called triclosan that fights the bacteria in plaque.
- Floss, floss, floss. No matter how good you are with a toothbrush, dental floss is the only way to remove plaque between your teeth and keep tartar out of these hard-to-reach areas.
- Rinse daily. Use an antiseptic mouthwash daily to help kill bacteria that cause plaque.
- Watch your diet. The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugary and starchy foods. When they’re exposed to those foods, they release harmful acids. Try to eat a healthy diet and limit the amount of sugary foods you eat. That goes for snacks, too. Every time you eat, you also feed the bacteria in your mouth. You don’t have to give up sweets or between-meals munches. Just be mindful about how often you indulge. Brush and drink plenty of water during and after meals.
- Don’t smoke. Studies show that people who smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products are more likely to have tartar.
Once tartar has formed, only a dental professional will be able to remove it from your teeth. So, visit your dentist every 6 months to remove any plaque and tartar that might have formed and to prevent further problems.