You know that hard stuff that seems to grow on your teeth and that sounds screechy but makes your teeth feel nice and smooth when the dental hygienist scrapes it off?
That is calculus (Greek for ‘small stone’) and also called tartar (but has nothing to do with the sauce).
Tartar forms by many days of mineral-containing saliva or spit washing over your teeth and calcifying any plaque on your teeth. Because plaque forms continuously, people who have lots of minerals in their saliva make more tartar.
Surprisingly, different people have different tendencies to form tartar. Some people make almost none and others form it so fast that they have to come in to the dental office every three months to get it removed.
Tartar causes some problems:
It can look bad because it is yellow and chalky.
It can make flossing difficult by catching and tearing floss.
It contributes to gum disease, both gingivitis and more serious periodontitis.
The presence of lots of tartar is an indicator that cavities are more easily healed with good brushing and flossing than for people who do not form much tartar. The heavy load of minerals in their saliva neutralizes acids that cause cavities and provides tooth minerals necessary to strengthen softened enamel.
If left on teeth for years, bacteria grow under the ledge of tartar and infect the gingiva (gums). This infection spreads to the bone holding teeth firm and dissolved it away. More tartar forms deeper under the gingiva and the process repeats until eventually the tooth falls out.
Brushing alone will not remove tartar already formed but it can slow down the growth of new tartar. One of the most important (but also the most uncomfortable) parts of your dental cleaning is the removal of tartar. Specially curved steel tools are used to reach under the gingiva and between teeth to scrape tartar off.
If jaw bone infection (periodontitis) has started, the tartar may have to be removed using anesthestic to make the deep cleaning more comfortable. Occasionally, the gingiva must be cut and lifted up to thoroughly clean the grooves between teeth then be sewed back in place.
Needless to say, avoiding this by regular brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings makes great sense!
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