What’s the Deal with Tartar?

General Dentistry Hillsboro, ORAlthough putting the stuff on a fresh king salmon is paramount to sacrilege, if you ever had fish sticks at school as a kid, odds are you also had tartar sauce to make them more palatable.

But when it comes to your dental health, Dr. Miller isn’t worried about your condiment choices; he’s worried about another sort of tartar that is neither tasty or on any menu — dental tartar also called calculus.

Once tartar has formed and locked onto your teeth, you can’t get it off at home. You need the skills of our hygienists at Dr. Miller’s to remove it. Not doing so leads to gingivitis and then to full on gum disease.

Here are the ins and outs of tartar… without a fish stick in sight!

How tartar forms on your teeth

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly forms on our teeth. Plaque and your toothbrush are involved in an ongoing battle. It’s Sisyphusian. Every day you brush it away only to have it re-form the next day. Plaque is easy to remove with some attentive brushing and flossing. That should be the end of it, but when you skip some brushings or do a lackadaisical job, then the problems begin.

If you don’t brush the plaque from your teeth, it hardens or calcifies. This calcified plaque is now called tartar, and they don’t make a sauce with this stuff. Tartar starts on your teeth above the gums and then progresses slowly down under the gumline. That’s the reason Dr. Miller recommends his patients having twice yearly cleanings — that’s the time it takes for routine tartar to build up, and it’s early enough to catch it before it makes its way under your gums. Initially, tartar under your gums slightly irritates them. This is called gingivitis. But as more tartar builds up and the gums become more irritated, they begin to pull away from the teeth. This is the beginning of gum disease, which leads to tooth loss and extensive jawbone damage.

Picks to the rescue

So, how do our hygienists remove the tartar before it begins to impact the gums?  They use dental picks in a process called scaling. The pick is applied to the edge of the tartar, and some force is applied. Often the tartar comes off as one piece, sort of like a shell. Other times, some back and forth scraping will remove it. How stubborn your tartar is can be a factor of genetics and how long it has been since your last cleaning.

The important thing to know is that scaling is a professional job. You can’t get this stuff off at home. Not only can you damage your gums and tooth enamel if you try and scrape tartar off your teeth, but you can’t do a thorough enough job so that the tartar will remain and grow. Tartar is especially prevalent on the inside of the lower bottom teeth. Just about everyone builds up tartar in that location.

Is it time for your next cleaning? Call Dr. Miller at 503-640-9310 to make your next appointment.

Posted in: Oral Health

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