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Most of us have heard it from childhood: dental plaque is the enemy. It’s icky, sticky, and relatively easy to remove. But what about tartar? That’s a bit more complicated. Once it’s there, you can’t get rid of it at home. But with support from your family dentist, you can keep plaque and tartar from hurting your teeth and gums.
What Is Plaque?
Plaque is a sticky film made of bacteria, food particles, and saliva that forms on your teeth. Fighting plaque is one of the most effortless and essential elements of good oral hygiene. It takes a bit of effort at home and regular checkups with your family dentist.
What Is Tartar?
If you have yellow or brown build-up on your teeth, it’s probably tartar. The bad news is that only your dentist can remove tartar once it’s there. However, we can give you helpful strategies for preventing it in the future. Tartar (also called dental calculus) is a mineral buildup that forms when dental plaque hardens on your teeth. Dead bacteria mix with proteins from your saliva to create minerals, including calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, and magnesium phosphate. Tartar forms at the gumline, above and below your gums.
What Happens If I Don’t Treat Tartar on My Teeth?
Tartar is embarrassing. It causes your teeth to appear yellow and stained and affects your smile and self-confidence. Even worse, if you don’t remove tartar, it can cause gum disease and receding gums. Tartar also contributes to cavities, tooth decay, and bad breath.
How Does My Dentist Remove Tartar?
Once tartar forms, you can’t get rid of it by brushing at home. Your dental hygienist removes tartar with a deep-cleaning procedure called scaling. Using a manual or electronic scaling tool allows her to remove tartar above and below the gumline. If you have extensive tartar buildup, you may need a debridement procedure where your dentist uses an ultrasonic device to remove hardened tartar.
What Causes Plaque and Tartar Buildup?
If you don’t brush and floss, you put yourself at risk for plaque–and eventually tartar buildup. Other causes include:
- Consuming sugary or starchy food and drinks.
- Smoking or using tobacco products. Nicotine reduces saliva production, causing plaque and tartar buildup.
- Dry mouth prevents saliva from washing away food particles. A dry mouth diagnosis makes you more susceptible to bacteria and tartar accumulation.
- If you have braces, the brackets can create hard-to-reach places that allow bacteria to build up.
How Can I Prevent Plaque and Tartar?
Getting rid of plaque is the best way to prevent tartar. And the best way to avoid plaque is with excellent oral hygiene. Scheduling routine cleanings with your family dentist also makes a huge difference. Some strategies for removing plaque and preventing tartar include:
- Brush twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste.
- Consider a tartar-control toothpaste with sodium pyrophosphate to prevent minerals from accumulating on the teeth.
- Talk with your dentist about an electronic toothbrush. Research shows they may be more effective at removing plaque than a traditional toothbrush.
- Talk with your dentist about an antiseptic mouth rinse.
- Limit sugary and starchy foods and avoid sodas and other sweetened beverages.
- Avoid smoking and tobacco products to keep your saliva levels healthy.
- Try a water flosser (WaterPik or similar), especially if you have braces. This can help remove plaque in hard-to-reach areas.
- Floss daily to remove food particles brushing can’t reach and get rid of plaque between teeth.
How Can My Family Dentist Help Prevent Plaque and Tartar?
As a family dentist, Dr. Hall sees the positive impacts of good habits every day. Taking care of the little things helps prevent big things from going wrong. Removing plaque with excellent oral hygiene is a perfect example. Daily habits like brushing, flossing, and eating healthy foods help prevent tartar and gum disease. But if you have tartar, don’t be embarrassed or afraid of judgment; we are here to help with a professional deep cleaning. With oral hygiene tips for home and regular cleanings, Hall Family Dentistry will get you on track with prevention and maintenance strategies for a beautiful, healthy smile.