Tartar: When plaque hardens

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Dental teeth 08

What is tartar?

According to the definition, tartar is hardened or calcified dental plaque. Tartar has a whitish-yellowish color, but can also turn brownish over time. In smokers, even black tartar is possible. The hardening of the plaque, which is soft in itself, occurs due to the minerals in the saliva. Therefore, tartar is mainly found near the salivary glands, for example on the inside of the lower incisors.

Important to know: The more thoroughly plaque is removed, the lower the risk of tartar. Conscientious oral hygiene, including cleaning of the interdental spaces, therefore offers the best protection against tartar.
Tartar removal is important. Because tartar is a very permanent plaque, we cannot remove it ourselves. The dentist has the right instruments to loosen stuck tartar. In most cases, tartar is removed as part of professional dental cleaning.

And this is important! Because bacteria feel at home on the rough surface – the risk of caries and gingivitis increases.


Background: How does tartar develop?

Tartar is mineralized plaque. To be more precise, tartar forms when minerals from saliva are deposited in the sticky, colorless plaque and harden it. For better understanding: saliva contains many minerals, especially calcium phosphate compounds. After just one to two days, these minerals begin to harden plaque. After an average of ten to twenty days, fixed tartar has formed.

Against this background, it is understandable why tartar is found primarily in the vicinity of the excretory ducts of the oral salivary glands.

Tartar therefore develops primarily here:

  •  On the inside of the incisors in the lower jaw
  •  On the outside of the upper, first molars

In this context, experts speak of supragingival calculus, i.e. calculus above the gum line. Subgingival tartar (concrements), on the other hand, is found in the gum pockets. Here, it is mainly minerals from the blood serum or the gingival pocket fluid that are responsible for tartar formation.


Tartar formation: Promoting factors

No plaque, no tartar. The equation is simple and means the reverse: If plaque is insufficiently removed due to poor oral hygiene, the risk of tartar increases.

In addition, the mineral content of the saliva is also decisive for the individual tartar risk. Good to know: All factors that promote plaque formation ultimately also promote the risk of tartar. This includes, among other things, a high-sugar diet. Learn more about the development of plaque here.

Tip: The better you brush your teeth and the more thoroughly you remove plaque, the sooner you can prevent tartar.


What does tartar look like?

Tartar is calcified plaque that is hard in consistency and usually cannot be removed by brushing. When you run your tongue over it, it feels rough.

Tartar can vary in color. Possible are:

  • White tartar or white-yellowish tartar (freshly formed tartar)
  • Brown tartar (mostly tartar in the area of the tartar pockets, which is brown in color due to blood components)
  • Dark tartar or black tartar (strong tartar, e.g. in smokers)

The different coloration of tartar is due, among other things, to color pigments from foods such as tea or coffee and from stimulants (red wine, cigarettes). However, blood deposits could also lead to a dark discoloration of tartar.


Where can tartar be found?

Tartar is mainly found near the excretory ducts of the oral salivary glands, as saliva causes the mineralization of plaque and thus the formation of tartar.

In this respect, tartar occurs mainly here:

  •     On the inside of the incisors in the lower jaw.
  •     On the outside of the upper, first molars.

In this context, experts speak of supragingival tartar, i.e. tartar above the gum line.

Subgingival tartar (concretions, “tartar under the gums”), on the other hand, is found in the gum pockets. It develops more slowly than supragingival calculus and can be brown to dark in color due to the inclusion of bleeding from the gums.


Does tartar cause pain?

As a rule, tartar does not cause pain. However, tartar increases the risk of tooth decay and gingivitis, each of which can be quite painful. If tartar occurs under the gums, they can become irritated, which can also cause pain.

Tatar removing methods

Hand scaling: With the help of hand instruments - so-called scalers or curettes - the dentist or dental hygienist removes tartar mechanically (scraping off tartar).

Ultrasonic scaling: A high-frequency oscillating tip of an ultrasonic device can effectively remove tartar through hammering motions.

Laser scaling: A rather rare procedure for tartar removal. It requires special safety precautions.

Remove tartar – for a good reason

The removal of tartar is important to prevent dental (flesh) problems. This is because bacteria feel right at home on the rough surface of tartar. Tartar thus increases the risk of tooth decay and gingivitis. In turn, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss. But what helps against tartar?
Removing tartar yourself – is it possible?

Tartar is a hard, fixed dental plaque consisting mainly of calcium phosphate compounds. These minerals are extremely robust and also give our teeth and bones their stability. So it’s no wonder that you can’t get rid of tartar by brushing your teeth alone. So removing tartar yourself is not an option.

In fact, tartar removal is only possible with special dental instruments. This means that in the case of tartar, the dentist is in demand!

Tartar removal at the dentist

Tartar removal usually takes place during professional dental cleaning. Various methods are used to loosen the tartar. Tartar is particularly frequently removed with ultrasound.


Are there remedies against tartar?

Once tartar is present, there is no remedy for it – apart from the instruments and procedures (e.g. ultrasound) used by the dentist. The best means of preventing tartar is and remains conscientious oral hygiene. Because the less plaque, the lower the risk of tartar.


To prevent tartar: remove plaque

Tartar is mineralized plaque. Consequently, the better plaque is removed, the lower the risk of tartar.

Therefore, take the following “basics” to heart for thorough oral hygiene

  • Brush your teeth twice a day – in the morning and in the evening; this way you can “scrub away” bacterial plaque that is constantly forming
  • Use an anti-tartar toothpaste (e.g. with fluoride and sodium carbonate) to thoroughly remove plaque bacteria.
  • Also clean the interdental spaces once a day, as plaque also likes to “hide” here. For example, use an interdental brush and/or dental floss.

    Replace your toothbrush regularly to ensure optimum cleaning performance.
    Use an additional antibacterial mouth rinse, which also reaches hard-to-reach areas.


Professional teeth cleaning

Another important measure to protect against tartar is professional teeth cleaning. Here, plaque is removed in a targeted manner. Tartar removal is also part of the program. In this way, possible consequences of excessive tartar, such as caries or gingivitis, can also be prevented. Good to know: Professional dental cleaning should be performed once or twice a year.


Tips against tartar

Remove plaque Tartar is calcified dental plaque. If plaque is not removed thoroughly, minerals from the saliva are deposited, which causes the sticky plaque to harden (= tartar).

Against this background, it becomes clear that the most important thing in protecting against tartar is thorough removal of plaque. Conscientious oral hygiene is therefore indispensable if you want to prevent tartar.
Oral hygiene with a system Don’t give tartar a chance and make it your goal to remove plaque thoroughly every day. You should also think about the spaces between your teeth. This is where plaque bacteria like to accumulate. An interdental brush and/or dental floss can be helpful here.

The most important basics for good oral hygiene at a glance:


  •     Brush your teeth 2 times a day (important: use fluoride toothpaste)
  •     Clean interdental spaces once a day
  •     Supplementary use of an antibacterial mouth rinse that also penetrates hard-to-reach areas

Sugar? Better not The better you prevent the development of plaque, the sooner you can also protect yourself from tartar. Therefore, you should limit your consumption of sugary foods and beverages – and brush your teeth after eating them.

In addition, it is advisable to drink enough. In this way, you can counteract dry mouth – another risk factor for plaque. Last but not least, the stronger your immune system, the worse it is for plaque bacteria. Therefore, avoid nicotine, ensure more relaxation and stress reduction, and make sure you get enough sleep.


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