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How to Tackle Tartar Buildup

Tartar is one of the leading causes of gum disease, so it is important to tackle it quickly and efficiently. Though we all know that an annual trip to the dentist is important for keeping our teeth and gums happy and healthy, good oral hygiene also depends on a solid routine at home. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash are important parts of any oral hygiene routine.

What is Tartar?

When we eat we don’t actually consume all of the food we put in our mouths. Small pieces remain on our teeth and gums, which is consumed by the bacteria that live in our mouths. This process causes plaque to form and can damage our teeth and gums if it is allowed to linger. Plaque is a colourless film, which can harden into tartar if it isn’t removed regularly through brushing and flossing.

How Does Tartar Form?

Tartar forms when we do not regularly remove plaque from our teeth. Tartar, also called calculus, is much harder to remove than plaque, and can solidify both on our teeth and below the gumline. Unlike plaque, tartar is fairly easy to see. The most common sign of tartar buildup is a yellow or brown deposit between your lower front teeth or along your gumline.

When plaque hardens into tartar it irritates our gums, causing them to turn red and swell. Irritated gums may also bleed. This condition is called gingivitis, and if it is allowed to progress it can evolve into periodontal disease, which may result in tooth loss.

How Do You Get Rid of Tartar?

The only way to completely get rid of tartar is to have it removed by a professional, such as your dentist or dental hygienist. During your annual cleaning, your dental hygienist will use specialized tools to scrape the tartar off your teeth, as well as remove any tartar that has built up below your gumline.

However, the best way to combat tartar is to avoid letting it form in the first place. There a few things you can do at home on a daily basis to help combat tartar buildup.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice per day, for a minimum of two minutes. If you don’t brush for the minimum two minutes you may not be able to remove all the plaque, which will allow tartar to form. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles, that is small enough to comfortably fit in your mouth. When you brush don’t forget to scrub hard to reach places such as the backs of your teeth and your molars.
  • Choose a tartar control toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride is an excellent way to prevent, slow, and even reverse tooth decay.
  • Consider switching to an electric toothbrush. Studies have found that electric toothbrushes may be more effective at removing plaque than manual toothbrushes. Whichever toothbrush you choose make sure it features the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
  • Use dental floss. Brushing our teeth is important, but toothbrushes are not designed to get between the gaps in our teeth, and according to the Canadian Dental Association, means that we can miss more than one-third of the surface of our teeth.
  • Be mindful of what you are eating. The bacteria in our mouthes thrive on sugary and starchy foods, and when they interact with these foods they produce acids that damage our tooth enamel. You don’t have to give up the foods you love, just make sure you drink plenty of water during and after meals and brush your teeth when you are finished eating.
  • Use mouthwash. Mouthwash is an excellent way to kill the harmful bacteria in our mouths that cause plaque to develop in the first place.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking causes a wide variety of health problems and can make it harder for your body to fight off infections and gum disease. According to the CDC smokers are nearly twice as likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. The longer you smoke, and the more frequently you smoke, the more likely you are to develop gum disease.


The best way to tackle tartar buildup is to avoid letting it form in the first place. You can keep tartar at bay by brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash regularly. If you already have tartar your dentist or dental hygienist will have to remove it for you at your next cleaning.