What Is Dental Tartar, Anyways?

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When you've visited your dental hygienist for a cleaning, you may have heard him or her refer to the tartar on your teeth. This is just the sticky stuff that you brush off, right? Well, not exactly. The sticky stuff you brush off is actually called dental plaque. It's made of bacteria, sugars, and the acids the bacteria and sugar secrete (which break down tooth enamel and cause cavities). Tartar is a bit different – and it's important that you know a little about it.

What is tartar?

Tartar is sometimes called dental calculus. It is essentially hardened plaque that sat on your teeth for so long that it has become dry. Usually, it's found along the gum line and along the edges of teeth. It's a little rough to the touch. Sometimes you may be able to feel it if you run your finger or tongue along the base of your teeth. If you look very closely in the mirror, you might see an area where your teeth look a little more yellow – this is tartar.

Why is tartar a problem?

Once it has hardened into tartar, this bacteria-laden buildup does not just brush or rinse off your teeth. It sits there, constantly exposing your teeth to acids that break down the enamel. If you don't do anything about it, tartar will increase your risk of cavities and also of gum disease – which is essentially an infection of your gums with oral bacteria.

So what can you do about tartar?

Tartar needs to be removed by your dental hygienist. When your hygienist is using those scraping tools along the edges of your teeth, he or she is scraping away tartar. If you've had your teeth cleaned regularly, it may only take a few minutes to remove the tartar. On the other hand, if it has been a long time since you've had your teeth cleaned, tartar removal can take an hour or more.

How can you reduce tartar buildup?

The secret to preventing tartar buildup is to remove plaque from your teeth before it has a chance to harden into tartar. Brush your teeth twice a day, and really pay attention to the area along your gums. Clean between your teeth with floss. You should also watch your diet and be careful not to eat too many sugary foods. Sugar feeds the bacteria in plaque; the more sugar you eat, the more plaque will form, and ultimately the more tartar you'll end up with.

For more information and assistance with removing tartar, visit a dentist regularly.