What is Tartar and How Bad it Really is for Your Oral Health?

Have you ever noticed a soft sticky film on your teeth? This film is called dental plaque, which consists of millions of naturally-occurring mouth bacteria that feed on the food and drinks you consume. When plaque is allowed to stay on the teeth for too long, it hardens and forms tartar or calculus.

Tartar and plaque must be removed on a regular basis as they are detrimental to your oral health. While everyone is susceptible to tartar buildup, the risk is higher for:

  • Young children
  • Older adults
  • Smokers and tobacco users
  • Those with orthodontic work
  • Those suffering from dry mouth

If you suspect that you have tartar deposits on your teeth, simply look into a mirror and you’ll see a hard, rough yellowish or brownish substance stuck on your teeth.

Why Tartar is Bad For Your Oral Health

If you think that tartar is only an aesthetic problem, think again. If tartar is not removed at an early stage, it can lead to a number of health and oral problems such as:

Tooth Decay

Since plaque is the most common cause of tooth decay, it’s only natural that tartar causes tooth decay as well. When tartar is formed on the teeth, it increases the surface area on which the bacteria can stick and grow. In addition, tartar makes it harder to clean your teeth, promoting decay further. Unless the tartar is removed, the tartar will continue to damage your teeth and create cavities.

Stained or Discoloured Teeth

With tartar deposits on your teeth, your teeth can stain easily due to its porous surface. Beverages like coffee, tea, and wine; and smoking or tobacco use causes the most severe staining. While this problem is cosmetic in nature, yellow or brown teeth can be unpleasant to look at and even affect your social life.

Halitosis or Bad Breath

While bad breath can be a symptom of many oral problems like dry mouth and gum disease, the root cause is the bacteria that produce volatile sulphur compounds. When the plaque calcifies, the bacteria in the tartar cannot be removed simply by brushing or flossing. As a result, bad breath becomes a chronic problem till the tartar is scraped off by a dentist.

Periodontitis or Gum Disease

Periodontitis or gum disease is one of the most serious problems caused due to tartar. When tartar is formed at the gum line, it causes inflammation of the gums. This is termed as gingivitis, which is the early stage of gum disease. Some common signs of gingivitis are:

  • Swollen and tender gums
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Bad breath

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Once gum disease progresses, the bacteria in plaque and tartar start growing below the gums. This causes the immune system to fight the infection, leading to break down of the bone and connective tissues.

How to Avoid Tartar Buildup

Unlike plaque, which can be removed by regular brushing and flossing, tartar can only be removed by a dentist once it is formed. That’s why it’s important to remove plaque on a regular basis to keep your teeth clean and cavity-free. Here are a few ways you can prevent tartar buildup:

1. Brush Regularly

While this one goes without saying, many people don’t regularly brush their teeth. It is important that brushing at least twice a day is a part of your morning and night routines. In addition, make sure that you brush your teeth for at least two minutes.

To ensure effective brushing without hurting your gums, use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Also, make sure that your toothbrush is small enough to clean the hard-to-reach places like behind the teeth and rear molars.

2. Clean Interdental Spaces

While brushing is crucial to your oral health, it cannot do the job of keeping your mouth tartar-free alone. You need to floss at least once a day to remove the stuck food particles and plaque deposits between your teeth. If you aren’t sure about the right way to floss, you can read our post on the subject. You can also use an interdental brush like Thermoseal Proxa to clean the gaps between your teeth.

3. Use an Antibacterial Mouthwash

As discussed above, plaque is caused by the bacteria that reside in the mouth. An antibacterial mouthwash like Halyx Ultracan help in the prevention of plaque by eliminating these bacteria. Rinsing can also help in treating bad breath and other oral ailments. So, make sure to add an antibacterial mouthwash to your oral health regime.

4. Use a Tartar Control Toothpaste

Toothpastes recommended for tartar control like XTAR are specially designed to prevent the formation of tartar deposits on your teeth. These toothpastes contain chemicals that prevent the calcification of plaque. They also have a high fluoride content that helps in strengthening the enamel and repairs the damage caused by bacteria.

While these toothpastes can prevent new tartar formation, they cannot remove the tartar which has already been formed. That’s why they are usually prescribed after dental cleaning procedures.

5. Biyearly Dental Visits

Most people visit their dentist only when there is something wrong with their teeth or gums. However, you should make an appointment with your dentist every six months regardless of any oral health problems.

During the visit, your dentist examines your teeth and gums to see if there are any causes of concern. With regular appointments, you can take corrective measures early-on and prevent serious damage to your mouth.

6. Diet and Lifestyle Changes

As with your general health, your diet can affect your oral health as well. It’s important that you maintain a healthy diet and avoid too many sugary or starchy foods. Sugar and starch make the ideal conditions for mouth bacteria to grow. While this doesn’t mean you have to give up on all sweets, make sure to brush or at least rinse your mouth with water after every meal.

Some studies show that smoking or tobacco use puts you at a greater risk of developing tartar. In addition, smoking causes a range of oral and health problems. If you use tobacco in any form, you should consider quitting.

Now that you know why tartar is bad for your oral health and how to avoid its buildup, you can make the right choices to improve your oral health.


  • P D Marsh, D J Bradshaw. “Dental plaque as a biofilm.” Journal of Industrial Microbiology. 1995. Volume 15. Number 3. p. 169
  • https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/tartar-dental-calculus-overview#1
  • American Academy of Periodontology
  • American Dental Association
  • University of Maryland Medical Center: “Dental cavities”
  • FDA: “Fighting gum disease: How to keep your teeth”
  • National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: “Periodontal (gum) disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments”
  • CDC: “Oral Health: Preventing cavities, gum disease and tooth loss”
  • University of Maryland Medical Center: “Brushing and toothpaste”
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