What is Tartar, Where is it, and How Does it Form?

Tartar is the layman’s term that a lot of us use to describe dental calculus. It’s a hard, rocky-like substance that attaches to teeth and harbors bacteria, acids, and disease-causing microbes inside of your mouth.

Why is Tartar a Problem?

Tartar is closely linked to dental problems like bad breath and gum disease. Since it provides a framework for bacteria to live in, having tartar buildup can put your oral health in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, tartar isn’t something that you can just brush or floss off of your teeth. It’s like cement. Once it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. The more tartar you have and the further it reaches under your gums, the more you’re at risk for gum disease, bone loss, tooth mobility, or your teeth ultimately falling out.

If tartar isn’t removed regularly (during your dental cleaning at Eastport Dental) it will continue to grow and destroy the bone structures around your teeth. It’s one of the biggest reasons why people develop periodontal disease.

Your smile isn’t the only thing that’s at risk of tartar damage. The bacteria inside of it can also spread into your bloodstream, triggering a chain reaction with your immune system. Health issues like diabetes, heart disease, preeclampsia, pneumonia, erectile dysfunction, infertility, stroke, and high blood pressure are all tied back to aggressive gum infections. So even if your teeth don’t seem to be a big worry, your overall wellness will be. 

How Does Tartar Form?

Before tartar turns into the hard buildup on your teeth, it’s soft, sticky plaque biofilm. Plaque of course is formed from food and acid byproducts that develop when they’re broken down by the saliva in your mouth.

Once plaque sticks to your teeth, it automatically starts to accumulate with other plaque particles. Within about 24 hours, the layers of plaque begin to calcify. If you’re not brushing or flossing the entire bacterial deposit off, the layers of plaque build upon one another, creating layers of tartar in those areas of your mouth.

As time goes by, those tiny little layers of tartar can become large deposits that also collect stain. You might see them on your teeth near your gums, as they tend to look yellow, brown, or black in color. Some tartar is light enough that it blends in with the color of your tooth.

Where Does Tartar Usually Build Up?

Tartar tends to form in a few parts of the mouth first, before spreading into adjacent locations. The top offending areas are usually:

  • Along the gumlines
  • Between back teeth
  • Near saliva glands (lower front teeth, upper back teeth)

If our Mesa dentist takes an X-ray of your teeth and severe tartar buildup is present, the image will look like there are small spurs extending off the sides of either tooth.

As the tartar starts to form near your gumlines, it accumulates just inside of the gum “sulcus” or “pocket” that wraps around your tooth. Left alone, the tartar grows larger, pushing the gums back and creating a larger pocket. Over time, the tartar can creep so low down under the tissues that it compromises the structure of the affected teeth.

How is Tartar Removed?

The only way to remove tartar at home is to prevent it from building up while it’s still soft. Brush and floss daily to disrupt plaque biofilm, before it has the opportunity to calcify. As long as you clean your mouth thoroughly, you can minimize how much tartar grows between your dental checkups. Even then, it’s normal to have a few areas here or there. That’s ok, as long as it’s only a small amount.

During your professional cleaning at Eastport Dental, our hygienists will use special hand or ultrasonic instruments to safely and thoroughly remove the calcified buildup. The equipment that is used will remove the tartar without damaging your gum tissues or causing trauma to your teeth. It’s important to not try to do this at home, as permanent enamel damage could occur.

For best results, schedule a preventive cleaning (prophylaxis) at our Mesa office every six months. People who tend to get heavy tartar buildup or have a history of gum disease will want to schedule cleanings more frequently, such as every 3-4 months. 

Do You See Tartar on Your Teeth?

If you can see tartar buildup on your teeth, think of it like an iceberg. There’s even more below the surface! Plan to schedule a professional cleaning and exam at Eastport Dental in Mesa with Dr. Huynh at least every six months. Call us today!

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