Tartar, also known as calculus, refers to the hardened dental plaque that builds up on teeth. Tartar is made up of bacteria, food debris, and mineral deposits from saliva. It sticks to teeth and provides an environment for more plaque to accumulate. Over time, tartar buildup can lead to gum disease, cavities, and other oral health problems if not removed.
It’s common for small amounts of tartar to naturally fall off teeth on its own. But is it a good sign if tartar flakes off or breaks loose? Here’s a quick overview of what it means when tartar falls off teeth:
– Yes, it’s generally a good sign when tartar starts to loosen or chip off teeth. This means the tartar is ready to be removed.
– Small tartar fragments breaking loose on their own indicates the buildup is advanced enough that the tartar is starting to separate from tooth surfaces.
– Larger tartar deposits won’t fully dislodge on their own. Falling tartar pieces simply means it’s a good time for a dental cleaning.
– Tartar doesn’t just disappear on its own once firmly attached to teeth. The fragments breaking off means it’s loosening up, not necessarily going away completely.
– Some pain or sensitivity is normal when tartar flakes off, as it can expose softened enamel underneath. This usually goes away in a day or two.
– Tartar buildup that starts flaking off is a sign you need a professional dental cleaning to fully remove all deposits and smooth tooth surfaces.
What causes tartar to form on teeth?
Tartar begins when dental plaque is not removed by brushing and flossing. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that continuously forms on teeth. Here is how tartar develops:
– Plaque bacteria metabolize sugar and starch in the diet into acids. This erodes tooth enamel.
– Minerals in saliva deposit into the plaque biofilm. This calcifies the plaque into a hardened material stuck to teeth.
– Accumulated plaque and mineral deposits fuse together. This eventually hardens into a rough, porous mass known as tartar.
– Tartar is firmly cemented to teeth. More plaque and bacteria adhere to this rough surface, forming even more tartar.
– Tartar below the gumline also irritates gums and enables periodontal disease to develop.
In summary: Tartar is calculus formed when plaque calcifies from mineral deposits in saliva. It provides an environment for plaque accumulation, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Why does tartar begin flaking off teeth?
There are a few reasons why established tartar buildup might start to crack, chip or flake off teeth:
– Advancing buildup: With more plaque and mineral deposits over time, the tartar mass expands. This causes internal stresses that can start causing external sections to fracture.
– Drying out: Tartar can dry out and become more brittle over time, especially above the gumline. Pieces are then more likely to crack off.
– Vibration: Daily functions like chewing can create enough vibration and small movements to work tartar fragments loose once a buildup is advanced.
– Acids: Acids in foods and drinks create microscopic etched areas in tartar deposits. These weakened areas are then prone to chipping.
– Toothbrush abrasion: Brushing directly over tartar can wear away at the surface and edges, causing pieces to detach.
– Physical manipulation: Picking at tartar with fingers, toothpicks, or tools can loosen pieces, though this is never recommended.
In summary: Natural pressures of expanding tartar, vibration, acid, and abrasion cause the calculus mass to fragment once it reaches an advanced stage. Pieces then break off from the main buildup.
Is it a good sign when tartar starts coming off teeth?
Yes, it’s generally a positive development when pieces of tartar begin flaking off or dislodging from tooth surfaces. Here’s why:
– It shows the tartar has accumulated substantially and is at a stage where it’s ready for removal.
– The tartar mass is starting to separate from tooth structure, indicating it is loosening.
– Any source of vibration or abrasion that causes tartar loss is helping disrupt the buildup.
– Losing fragments means there is less tartar volume remaining cemented to teeth.
– The roughened tartar surface catching and holding more plaque is reduced.
– It enables easier tartar removal at the next dental cleaning appointment.
– Any periodontal bacteria housed in the tartar matrix are decreased by the lost sections.
– Flaked off sections cannot merge and add to the overall tartar mass.
The takeaway: Tartar beginning to crack, chip or fall off is a positive sign the calculus is ready for removal and indicates an advancing stage of the tartar buildup process.
Is it normal for teeth to feel sensitive when tartar breaks loose?
It’s common for some temporary tooth sensitivity or mild pain when pieces of tartar break off teeth:
– Exposure of the underlying softened enamel can lead to temperature, pressure, or bite sensitivity that subsides in a couple days.
– Loss of the rigid tartar layer exposes microscopic uneven tooth surfaces that nerves inside can react to.
– Sections where tartar is flaking off can contain porosities that allow hot/cold liquid stimulation of the inner dentin layer.
– Any associated gum inflammation from adjacent tartar can also cause sensitivity as gum recession exposes more tooth structure.
– Sudden loss of a tartar fragment can result in a localized, sharp pain that quickly resolves.
Key takeaways: Some sensitivity when tartar falls off is normal and is primarily from exposing softened enamel and microscopic openings. This brief irritation should resolve within 1-2 days as teeth re-acclimate.
What are the signs of advanced tartar buildup ready to come off?
Here are some visible indicators that significant tartar accumulation is at a stage where pieces may start flaking off:
– Obvious rigid yellowish or brownish tartar deposits are apparent, especially near and below gumlines.
– Deposits have a raised, bumpy or spikey texture that is noticeable on tooth surfaces.
– There is generalized roughness and raised areas felt by running the tongue over teeth.
– You see or feel hardened debris between teeth that floss cannot fully dislodge.
– There is mild gingivitis evident, with puffy or reddened gums that may bleed.
– Teeth appear slightly discolored or dingy with noticeable plaque buildup.
– Bad breath, dental pain or gum tenderness is increasingly present.
– Smaller tartar pieces visibly break off when brushing or flossing teeth.
Summary: Obvious visible tartar deposits with roughness, gum inflammation, and loosening fragments are clear signs of an advanced stage ready for removal.
Can large tartar deposits fully come off teeth on their own?
No, once tartar accumulates in substantial amounts firmly cemented to teeth, the mass will not fully dislodge on its own. Here’s why:
– Tartar becomes tightly adhered to tooth surfaces by fused plaque and saliva minerals.
– The overall calculus mass expands internally but remains attached at its base.
– Only smaller outer portions of the deposit become weak enough to fracture away.
– The entire stubborn buildup cannot detach spontaneously due to its rigid integration with tooth structure.
– Vibration from chewing only impacts tartar enough to loosen fragments but not the entire mass.
– Brushing can’t generate enough friction to dislodge all of a significant tartar deposit at once.
– Dental tools are required to scrape, chisel, and polish away all tartar down to smooth, clean tooth structure.
In summary: While pieces may chip off, the bulk of heavy tartar buildup will not detach fully without professional dental scaling and planned removal procedures.
What’s the best way to remove loose pieces of tartar?
It’s advisable to leave larger loose pieces of tartar intact until your next dental visit. Trying to detach or pick off chunks risks damaging tooth enamel. Here are some smart tips:
– Leave medium to large loose pieces alone until your appointment for tartar scraping.
– Use floss to gently dislodge any fragments caught between teeth, avoiding forcing or pulling.
– Softly brushing with a manual toothbrush can help nudge smaller flakes away.
– Avoid using fingers, toothpicks or other tools to scrape at crumbling tartar, as they can scratch enamel.
– Rinsing teeth with water after eating can wash away tartar flakes that detach during chewing.
– Get a dental cleaning every six months minimum to have all tartar thoroughly removed by a professional.
– Proper daily flossing and brushing helps reduce additional plaque and tartar buildup.
In summary: Let larger tartar pieces come off naturally until your next dental visit. Gently flossing and brushing can remove smaller fragments without damaging teeth.
What problems can occur if tartar buildup is left untreated?
Leaving substantial tartar accumulation on teeth can lead to some significant oral health issues:
– Tooth decay: The tartar mass enables more plaque to stick, increasing acid erosion and cavities.
– Gum disease: Tartar below the gumline fuels inflammation, infection, and advanced periodontitis.
– Tooth loosening: Expanding tartar pushes on gums, eventually compromising tooth sockets.
– Bone loss: Bacterial toxins and inflammation can destroy the bony tooth sockets and jawbone.
– Tooth loss: With enough bone and gum erosion, teeth become loose and require extraction.
– Abscesses: Bacteria in tartar can penetrate into the tooth roots, forming infections and abscesses.
– Systemic issues: Oral bacteria entering the bloodstream can cause cardiovascular, respiratory, and other health problems.
Summary: Leaving tartar in place allows damage to progressively worsen, with potential tooth loss, infections, and other issues.
How can I prevent tartar buildup on my teeth?
You can help minimize tartar accumulation between dental cleanings by:
– Brushing thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Make sure to brush all inner, outer, and chewing surfaces.
– Flossing once daily gets between teeth to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar.
– Using an antibacterial mouthwash can reduce plaque bacteria. Opt for an alcohol-free brand.
– Getting teeth professionally cleaned every 6 months removes hardened tartar.
– Reducing sugary snacks and acidic drinks limits acid production that weakens enamel.
– Drinking plenty of plain water helps neutralize acids and washes away food debris.
– Chewing xylitol gum after meals increases saliva flow to help clean teeth.
– Using a fluoride mouth rinse before bed coats teeth to promote enamel remineralization overnight.
– Maintaining a balanced, non-cariogenic diet limits plaque production.
Summary: Effective daily flossing and brushing plus regular dental cleanings, fluoride, and reducing sugary/acidic foods are key tartar prevention methods.
When should I see a dentist about loose pieces of tartar?
You should schedule a dental appointment when:
– Tartar buildup is readily visible and you notice pieces flaking off.
– Teeth feel roughened and you sense accumulated debris.
– Gums are inflamed, painful, or bleed when brushing.
– Pockets of tartar are apparent between teeth and under edges of gums.
– You experience discomfort from sensitivity when tartar breaks loose.
– It’s been over 6 months since your last professional dental cleaning.
– You have regular bad breath or notice mouth odor despite oral hygiene efforts.
The bottom line: See your dentist as soon as possible if you see or feel hardened tartar deposits with fragments crumbling off, or any time it’s been over 6 months since your last cleaning.
In conclusion, tartar flaking off teeth generally indicates an advanced stage of buildup that is ready for removal. Small fragments coming loose shows the tartar is aging and weakening, which is a positive sign it can be taken off. Some minor sensitivity is normal when pieces dislodge. However, only a trained dental professional can fully remove all accumulated tartar down to smooth, clean tooth structure. Maintaining regular flossing, brushing, fluoride use, healthy diet, and semi-annual dental cleanings helps prevent substantial tartar formation in the first place.