Gum disease affects a large majority of humans. This stems from plaque and tartar being allowed to grow unchecked in your mouth and collecting around and beneath the gum line.
Did you know plaque can be cleaned with home remedies, but once it hardens to tartar/calculus, it should only be removed by a dental professional?
Up to 80% of Americans suffer from some stage of gum disease. When it progresses from mild gingivitis to later stages of periodontitis, that’s when tartar makes life a little harder.
Below, we will talk about what tartar is, how to avoid it, and healthy oral care practices. For instance, using baking soda might be beneficial for your teeth. But charcoal toothpaste — maybe not.
What is tartar? How is it different from plaque?
Tartar is basically hardened plaque. It is rough, porous, and bad for your oral health.
Also called calculus, tartar forms when plaque and minerals from your saliva coalesce into a hardened stain upon your teeth.
When tartar forms, symptoms like bad breath, gum inflammation, and receding gums start to appear.
Tartar formation under the gum line is a step in the development of gum disease (AKA periodontitis). Once plaque hardens into tartar, home remedies will not be able to reverse your gum disease.
Tartar is comprised of several different organic and inorganic components:
- Four mineral phases of calcium phosphate
- Bacteria, yeast
- Proteins, lipids
- Extracellular DNA
- Textile fibers
- Smoke particles, particularly if you smoke
Tartar vs. Calculus
Tartar and calculus refer to the same thing — hardened plaque.
“Dental Calculus” is the scientific term and has been in use longer. It comes from the Greek word for “small stone”. The term calculus has been used to refer to all sorts of mineral buildups in your body — such as kidney stones.
“Tartar” is the more recent term for hardened plaque. It comes from the Greek word for potassium bitartrate, a white encrustation found in casks. However, the main component of tartar is actually calcium phosphate.
Tartar vs. Plaque
Whereas most plaque can be cleaned off your teeth at home with healthy dental hygiene, tartar must be removed by a dentist with special dental tools, such as a periodontal scaler or an ultrasonic instrument.
Plaque is simply a biofilm where bacteria grow in close proximity. It is sticky, colorless, and pretty easily cleanable. Dental plaque without tartar is a cause of gingivitis (bleeding gums without tissue loss, considered the earliest stage of gum disease).
Tartar is when plaque hardens. It may cause teeth to turn brown or pale yellow. Tartar, unchecked, may move the progression from gingivitis to later stages of gum disease that involve loss of gum and bone tissue.
Tartar Removal at the Dentist: When, How, & What to Expect
Seven out of ten Americans experience some amount of fear about going to the dentist. Visiting a dental office can be an uncomfortable experience, but it does not have to be. Knowing what to expect can dampen any fears you may be harboring.
When do you need to get tartar removed?
Everyone should stick to their twice-yearly dental cleanings. With a healthy oral hygiene routine and twice-a-year check ups, plaque should not generally be able to harden in the first place to become tartar.
Several medical conditions might necessitate more frequent dental visits:
- Dry mouth
- Physical weakness
- Old age
However, many adults deal with tartar. If you start to see a brown or pale yellow stain on your teeth, it might be time to schedule a visit to your dentist.
The sooner you remove tartar, the less likely it is that you will develop advanced gum disease. This is great news for people at risk for diabetes, cardiovascular, or immune health problems, because advancing gum disease is associated with more frequent instances of these types of disease.
How is tartar removed?
Professional cleanings are required to remove tartar. Both traditional and holistic dentists perform these professional cleanings.
The dentist (or dental hygienist) will use a hand-held metal scaler to scrape away tartar. A metal scaler is that device with a hook on the end.
If your teeth are sensitive, numbing agents might be recommended.
You will hear scraping, and that is expected. The more tartar present, the more scraping is required.
If you have an excess of tartar on your teeth, your dentist may recommend a deep cleaning. Often, this involves scaling and root planing.
Scaling and root planing is when plaque and tartar are removed from underneath your gum line. This should make your teeth smooth and encourage gums to reattach to your teeth.
Is tartar removal painful?
Though tartar removal might be uncomfortable, it should not cause any pain.
Here are some potential discomforts during tartar removal:
- You will hear a scraping noise from inside your mouth.
- Gums may bleed when the dentist checks your gum pocket depth. It will pass quickly.
- Afterwards, your gums might be inflamed if you do not brush or floss consistently.
It is common to have some misgivings, but good oral hygiene is critical to your overall health. Visiting a dentist’s office to get a teeth cleaning doesn’t have to be scary. It should be encouraging.
8 Ways to Prevent Plaque At Home [Before It Becomes Tartar]
Tartar needs to be removed by a dental professional since it is so strongly attached to your teeth. But plaque is a different matter.
Remove plaque at home before it becomes tartar. Here are eight easy methods to achieve plaque removal.
1. Brush Those Teeth! But With What Type of Brush?
Brush your teeth twice a day (preferably after every meal and before you go to bed). If you brush in gentle circles at a 45 degree angle, plaque should not be able to get under your gums.
Always brush with a sonic toothbrush (AKA an electric toothbrush). The sonic motion reaches and removes more plaque than an oscillating or manual toothbrush.
A three-headed toothbrush is an innovative approach to brushing teeth. Triple-headed toothbrushes could replace the traditional toothbrush.
A sonic triple-headed brush can efficiently remove plaque that could otherwise harden into tartar.
The average person seems to brush their teeth marginally better with a three-headed brush. Interestingly, caregivers who need to brush someone else’s teeth seem to have more success with a triple-headed toothbrush than with a single head.
In a similar vein, mothers may be able to brush their child’s teeth better with a three-headed toothbrush.
It is also a common misconception that hard bristles are better at removing plaque. Always opt for a soft bristled toothbrush.
2. Floss, Floss, Floss
Even if it is hard to get motivated to floss in between your teeth, flossing once a day can remove that hard-to-reach plaque.
One study actually suggested flossing before brushing teeth to reduce plaque.
A water flosser is an interesting alternative. A water flosser pulses water in between your teeth and removes the bacteria and plaque hiding there. If used correctly, water flossing can be more effective than regular string floss.
3. Mouthwash Rinse
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a great way to fight plaque (and therefore tartar) is rinsing with a mouthwash that contains ingredients like:
Children under six years old probably should not use mouthwash — since they are likely to accidentally swallow large amounts of the mouthwash.
Interestingly, (unsweetened) green tea may reduce bacteria in your mouth, among other health benefits. You may want to consider a mouthwash that contains green tea.
4. Baking Soda
Can baking soda remove tartar from teeth? Nope. But it is very good at removing plaque that leads to tartar.
No home remedy can effectively remove tartar. But baking soda significantly improves the plaque removal powers of toothpaste.
5. Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is a natural way to get rid of toxins in your mouth. Swishing coconut oil around your mouth reduces harmful bacteria and inflammation without disrupting the oral microbiome, like mouthwash can.
When you swish, keep at it for 60 seconds. When you spit it out, spit into a garbage can since the coconut oil solidifies below 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Afterwards, briefly rinse your mouth with warm water.
Getting rid of harmful bacteria prevents plaque and, therefore, tartar formation.
6. Whitening Strips
Whitening strips are not simply a vanity product.
A study published in The Journal of clinical dentistry revealed using hydrogen peroxide whitening strips can reduce tartar formation by almost 30%.
7. Chew Sugar-Free Gum After a Meal
And there is also some evidence that sugar-free gum can reduce debris (such as food particles) in between your teeth that can contribute to tartar. Sugar-free gum certainly promotes plaque less than sugary gum.
8. Cut Out Tobacco
It should go without saying — tobacco is horrible for your oral health. Tobacco users are up to six times as likely to develop periodontitis (Stage II, III, and IV gum disease).
Not only does tobacco (smoking, chewing, etc.) promote bacterial growth in your mouth, it stains those teeth yellow.
How does tartar impact your oral health?
Tartar formation technically kills the harmful bacteria in plaque. However, it makes plaque formation much easier from then on, and further up the gum than before.
Tartar building up impacts your oral health in ways that only a dentist can correct. And eventually, tartar buildup sets the stage for irreversible health conditions associated with advanced periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is simply gum disease, and it is broken up into four stages:
- Early periodontitis
- Moderate periodontitis
- Advanced periodontitis
Gingivitis includes plaque buildup, which you are able to clean at home with toothbrushing, mouthwash, and flossing. Dental checkups are necessary for overall dental health, but home hygiene takes care of most plaque problems.
Early periodontitis begins when that plaque hardens into tartar. This is when a dentist is required to intervene. Tartar is too stubbornly attached to your teeth for you to clean at home.
Tartar formation brings with it symptoms of:
- Bad breath
- Easier gum bleeding
- Receding gums
- Gum inflammation, itchy gums
- Tooth sensitivity
- Tooth decay, cavities
- Tooth loss (moderate to advanced periodontitis)
Tartar also makes it easier and easier for more plaque to form, and further up your teeth. Eventually, the bacteria in plaque (aided by tartar) reaches your bloodstream. This is why later stages of periodontal disease can bring about issues with your heart and immune system.
Avoid These Tartar “Home Remedies”
There are snake oils out there. Pseudoscientists sometimes tout “home remedies” that are less than effective against tartar. Avoid these unscientific methods of removing tartar.
Acidic Teeth Scrubs
Homeopathic “experts” often tout the benefits of acidic scrubs for your teeth. However, acid — even from fruit — is harmful to your teeth.
So, when somebody suggests that you rub pineapple or strawberries on your teeth, now you know it is pseudoscience that can actually harm your teeth.
At-Home Dental Tool Kits
Half of adults are worried about the quality of their smile as they age. It is natural for them to want to improve their smile at a bargain.
At-home dental tool kits offer normal people the special tools a dental professional uses for at-home use. However — and you may see the problem — these people are not qualified to handle these tools.
Emergency dental kits are similar. Even in dental emergencies, a dentist’s visit the following day is miles safer and more effective than you or a friend fumbling about the only set of teeth you get.
Prevention is the best remedy.
Preventing plaque buildup will prevent tartar buildup. And daily dental care can take care of plaque before it become a problem:
- Brush your teeth after every meal and before bed.
- Brush at a 45 degree angle, with gentle circles.
- Brush with a sonic, three-headed toothbrush.
- Floss at least once a day to reach where toothbrushes can’t.
- Rinse with antiseptic mouthwash daily.
- Limit sugars and starches; bacteria feed off of carbohydrates.
- Do not smoke.
And make sure you stick to those regular dental visits to prevent tartar buildup and gum disease. Most dentists will recommend twice yearly cleanings at least.
Tartar-control toothpaste is designed to reduce the formation of tartar from more elusive plaque. Studies confirm specially designed toothpaste decreases tartar formation by up to 35%.
Overall, prevention is the best remedy. Preventing plaque from hardening into tartar is absolutely the best “home remedy”.
- Azrak, B., Barfaraz, B., Krieter, G., & Willershausen, B. (2004). Effectiveness of a three-headed toothbrush in pre-school children. Oral health & preventive dentistry, 2(2). Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15646943
- Ashkenazi, M., Salem, N. F., Garon, S., & Levin, L. (2015). Evaluation of Orthodontic and Triple-headed Toothbrushes When Used Alone or in Conjunction with Single-tufted Toothbrush in Patients with Fixed Lingual Orthodontic Appliances. A Randomized Clinical Trial. The New York state dental journal, 81(3), 31-37. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26094361
- Kalf‐Scholte, S. M., Van der Weijden, G. A., Bakker, E. W. P., & Slot, D. E. (2018). Plaque removal with triple‐headed vs single‐headed manual toothbrushes—a systematic review—. International journal of dental hygiene, 16(1), 13-23. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28544459
- Oliveira, L. B., Zardetto, C. G. D. C., de Oliveira Rocha, R., Rodrigues, C. R. M. D., & Wanderley, M. T. (2011). Effectiveness of triple-headed toothbrushes and the influence of the person who performs the toothbrushing on biofilm removal. Oral health & preventive dentistry, 9(2). Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21842016
- Mazhari, F., Boskabady, M., Moeintaghavi, A., & Habibi, A. (2018). The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of periodontology, 89(7), 824-832. Full text: https://dl.uswr.ac.ir/bitstream/Hannan/72628/1/JournalOfPeriodontology%202018%20Volume%2089%20Issue%207%20July%20%2811%29.pdf
- Lyle, D. M., Qaqish, J. G., & Schuller, R. (2013). Evaluation of the plaque removal efficacy of a water flosser compared to string floss in adults after a single use. J Clin Dent, 24, 37-42. Full text: https://www.waterpik.nl/en/professional/clinical-research/pdfs/Goyal-Waterpik-vs-String-Floss-for-Plaque-Removal-2013-Full-Clinical-Study.pdf
- Sultan, Z., Zafar, M. S., Shahab, S., Najeeb, S., & Naseem, M. (2016). Green tea (Camellia Sinensis): chemistry and oral health. Open Dent J, 10, 3-10. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27386001
- Putt, M. S., Milleman, K. R., Ghassemi, A., Vorwerk, L. M., Hooper, W. J., Soparkar, P. M., … & Proskin, H. M. (2008). Enhancement of plaque removal efficacy by tooth brushing with baking soda dentifrices: results of five clinical studies. Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 19(4), 111. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24193167_Enhancement_of_plaque_removal_efficacy_by_tooth_brushing_with_baking_soda_dentifrices_Results_of_five_clinical_studies
- Shanbhag, V. K. L. (2017). Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene–A review. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 7(1), 106-109. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198813/
- Farrell, S., Barker, M. L., Gerlach, R. W., Putt, M. S., & Milleman, J. L. (2009). Prevention of lingual calculus formation with daily use of 6% H2O2/2% pyrophosphate whitening strips. The Journal of clinical dentistry, 20(3), 75-78. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19711607
- Mickenautsch, S., Leal, S. C., Yengopal, V., Bezerra, A. C., & Cruvinel, V. (2007). Sugar-free chewing gum and dental caries: a systematic review. Journal of Applied Oral Science, 15(2), 83-88. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4327235/
- Kakodkar, P., & Mulay, S. (2010). Effect of sugar-free gum in addition to tooth brushing on dental plaque and interdental debris. Dental research journal, 7(2), 64. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3177370/
- Tangade, P., Mathur, A., Chaudhary, S., & Gupta, R. (2012). The effect of sugar-free and sugar chewing gums on plaque deposition. Dental research journal, 9(3), 309. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3469898/
- Borojevic, T. (2012). Smoking and periodontal disease. Materia socio-medica, 24(4), 274. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633395/
- Alkhatib, M. N., Holt, R. D., & Bedi, R. (2005). Smoking and tooth discolouration: findings from a national cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 5(1), 27. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079878/
- Brooks, J. K., Bashirelahi, N., & Reynolds, M. A. (2017). Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: a literature review. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 148(9), 661-670. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28599961
- Schiff, T., Delgado, E., DeVizio, W., & Proskin, H. M. (2008). A clinical investigation of the efficacy of two dentifrices for the reduction of supragingival calculus formation. The Journal of clinical dentistry, 19(3), 102-105. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19301516