How do you know if you have too much tartar?

What is tartar?

Tartar, also known as calculus, refers to the yellow or brown stain that can build up on teeth over time. It is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. As the plaque stays on teeth longer, it hardens into tartar due to mineral deposits from saliva. Tartar usually forms along the gumline and inbetween teeth where it is harder to brush and floss away. An accumulation of tartar can lead to more plaque buildup, gum disease, cavities, and bad breath.

What causes tartar buildup?

There are several factors that contribute to tartar buildup:

– Poor oral hygiene – Not brushing and flossing regularly allows plaque to harden into tartar. Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day is recommended to remove plaque before it turns into tartar.

– Diet – Eating a lot of sugary or acidic foods feeds the bacteria in plaque and accelerates its accumulation into tartar. Limiting sugary snacks and drinks can help reduce tartar formation.

– Dry mouth – Saliva helps wash away bacteria and food debris. A chronically dry mouth provides an environment for plaque to thrive and turn into tartar faster. Staying hydrated and using saliva substitutes if needed can help.

– Genetics and tooth position – Some people are more prone to tartar buildup due to the shape of their teeth and genetic factors. Teeth with grooves or crowding can be more difficult to clean and allow plaque to accumulate.

– Lifestyle factors – Smoking and chewing tobacco as well as improper brushing technique can also increase tartar and plaque buildup.

Signs that you have excess tartar

Here are some signs that indicate a buildup of tartar on your teeth:

– Visible stains – Tartar often appears as yellowish or brownish stains along the gumline or between teeth. The stains may be chalky or rough in texture.

– Sensitivity – Excess tartar buildup can expose areas of the tooth surface and cause increased sensitivity, especially to cold foods and drinks.

– Gum recession – Tartar below the gumline can lead to inflammation and receding gums. The roots may become visible as gums pull away.

– Bad breath – The bacteria in tartar produce sulfur compounds that cause bad breath or halitosis. Brushing and flossing cannot remove the smell if heavy tartar is present.

– Interference with chewing – Large tartar deposits can obstruct chewing and bite alignment. You may notice affected teeth do not meet properly.

– Plaque buildup – The rough surface of tartar makes it easier for plaque to accumulate on top of it. More plaque means more tartar development.

Professional dental cleaning

The most effective way to remove excess tartar is to get a professional dental cleaning. Dentists and hygienists have specialized tools and methods to thoroughly remove tartar from teeth above and below the gumline. Here’s what happens during a routine dental cleaning:

– Plaque and surface stains are removed with an ultrasonic scaler and hand tools to scrape tartar off of tooth surfaces.

– After gross debridement with hand tools, the teeth are polished using a rotating rubber cup with abrasive paste. This smooths and cleans tooth surfaces.

– Fluoride treatment is applied to help strengthen enamel and prevent future cavities.

– Problem areas may receive localized antimicrobial rinses and medicated chips to treat gum disease and reduce bacteria.

Getting a dental cleaning and checkup every 6 months is recommended to prevent tartar from accumulating again. If you have excessive tartar buildup, you may need more frequent dental visits to prevent issues.

At-home tartar removal and prevention

Inbetween dental visits, you can reduce tartar buildup at home with these tips:

– Brush twice and floss once daily – Consistent, thorough oral hygiene prevents plaque from hardening into tartar. Pay extra attention to back teeth and below the gumline.

– Use antimicrobial mouthwash – Mouthwash containing cetylpyridinium chloride or essential oils kills germs that contribute to tartar development.

– Scrape your tongue – Bacteria and food debris collect on your tongue and add to tartar. Use a tongue scraper daily.

– Eat a tartar-fighting diet – Avoid sugary foods and get plenty of tartar-blocking foods like dairy, fibrous fruits and veggies, green tea, and baking soda.

– Choose tartar control toothpaste – Look for toothpastes with tetrasodium pyrophosphate or hexametaphosphate to prevent mineral buildup.

– Drink water throughout the day – Staying hydrated produces more saliva to naturally wash away bacteria and food particles on teeth.

– Consider at-home dental cleaning aids – Specially designed electric toothbrushes, water flossers, and ultrasonic scalers may help disrupt some tartar formation.

However, at-home options can’t fully substitute for professional dental cleanings to remove hardened tartar deposits. Be sure to see your dentist at least twice a year.

When to see a dentist

You should make an appointment with your dentist if you notice the following signs of excess tartar:

– Visible thick yellow, brown, or green stains on your teeth

– Increased tooth sensitivity or gum recession

– Pain or difficulty chewing hard foods

– Chronic bad breath even after brushing

– New spots of plaque developing soon after brushing

– Loose teeth or changes in bite alignment

Routine exams every 6 months also allow your dentist to remove tartar before it leads to more serious problems. Set a reminder on your calendar so you don’t miss your next dental visit.

Potential complications

It’s important to remove excess tartar because it can lead to various oral health issues:

– Gingivitis – Early gum disease causes red, swollen, bleeding gums. Tartar irritates the gums and harbors bacteria that cause infection and inflammation.

– Periodontitis – Untreated gingivitis can advance to damage the bones and tissues supporting the teeth. Teeth may loosen or require extraction.

– Tooth decay – Plaque can build up more easily on rough tartar. The bacteria produce acids that erode enamel and cause cavities.

– Oral hygiene difficulty – Large tartar deposits make it harder to properly brush and floss the teeth. Plaque and tartar continue to accumulate.

– Halitosis – Sulfur gases emitted by the bacteria in tartar cause unpleasant odors from the mouth no matter how much you brush.

– Staining – Existing tartar provides a surface for stains from coffee, tea, wine, and tobacco to adhere to more stubbornly.

– Dental restoration failure – Buildup under bridges, dentures, crowns, and fillings can lead to failure or decay around these restorations.

Regular dental cleanings and daily oral hygiene help avoid these complications and their associated treatment costs. Take steps to prevent excessive tartar for better dental health.

When tartar removal requires special care

In some cases, people may be at higher risk for tartar buildup and require more diligent prevention and removal methods:

– Older adults – Diminished dexterity, medications that cause dry mouth, and gingival recession put seniors at increased risk for tartar issues.

– People with braces – Brackets and wires around teeth trap more plaque. Teens with braces need extra brushing and dental cleaning.

– Individuals with gum disease – They already have inflammation that makes gums prone to recurrent tartar irritation. More frequent dental visits are key.

– Those with certain conditions – Diseases like diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome reduce saliva flow and promote tartar development.

– People taking specific medications – Some drugs have oral side effects like dry mouth and enlarged gums that enable heavier tartar deposits.

– Tobacco users – Smoking and chewing tobacco stains teeth and directly contributes to tartar as well as gum disease. Quitting is ideal.

– Decreased manual dexterity – Conditions limiting the ability to thoroughly brush and floss daily, such as arthritis, call for alternatives to ensure plaque removal.

Tartar control requires extra vigilance for these individuals. A dentist may recommend prescription strength fluoride and antimicrobial rinses, more visits to scrape away tartar, and the use of floss picks, oral irrigators, or electric toothbrushes tailored to patient needs.

When to seek a professional opinion

While mild tartar can be managed at home, it’s best to have any significant tartar deposits evaluated by a dentist. You should make an appointment if you notice:

– Hardened tartar that you can’t remove by brushing and flossing
– Increasing tooth sensitivity or gum recession
– Loose teeth, jaw pain, or changes in your bite
– New cavities developing around areas of tartar
– Persistent bad breath and a white-coated tongue
– Red, swollen, or bleeding gums

The dentist can assess if gingivitis, periodontitis, or other issues are developing as a result of the built up tartar. They have specialized tools to thoroughly remove stubborn tartar above and below the gumline. Prompt tartar removal can help prevent losses of tooth structure, gum line recession, and eventual tooth loss in severe cases of perio disease.


Some tartar on teeth is expected, but heavy buildup indicates poor plaque control and puts you at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. If brushing and flossing are not enough to disrupt tartar formation, see your dentist for a professional cleaning every 3-6 months before it leads to problems. Consistent daily oral hygiene, a healthy diet, and regular dental visits help keep tartar in check for better long term dental health. Be proactive against tartar for vibrant teeth and gums.

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