Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of Control Tartar

With all the toothpastes out there claiming to do everything from whitening your teeth to making them harder, we're starting to hear the word "tartar", as in "tartar control", thrown around more. So what exactly is it?

Tartar, or dental calculus (no, not math problems for your teeth) is a hard material that develops between your teeth over time when you don't get your teeth professionally cleaned often enough, and sometimes even when you do. It accumulates faster if you don't brush your teeth regularly or floss.

Basically what it's doing is filling in the areas around and between your teeth. But it's not acting as a protective shield--it's more like the opposite. It's formed by an invisible layer of bacteria on your teeth called plaque, and it develops into a whitish, hard material that has fed on the sugars and starches you've eaten (and not brushed away.) And what it does is create acidic waste that will slowly travel down between your teeth and gums and separate them.

I was talking to a dentist recently who had a patient with so much plaque that as the dentist started to remove it the patient thought the dentist was breaking his teeth apart and got very upset!

A quick test: run your tongue along the back of your lower front teeth. Can you feel the separation between the teeth, or is it smooth from one end to the other? If it's smooth, you probably have filled in the spaces with tartar. Time to see a dentist quick!

While getting a dental cleaning with a lot of tartar can be a bit unpleasant, this just means you should improve your dental hygiene and see the dental hygienist more often. Waiting won't make it better, that's for sure.

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