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How Do Dentists Remove Tartar

by Lyndon Langley
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How Do Dentists Remove Tartar

How Do Dentists Remove Tartar

Tartar is the hard plaque coating on teeth, but it’s not actually part of our bodies; rather, it forms when bacteria feed on food particles stuck to tooth enamel. The process starts at puberty, when we start eating more sugary foods, such as candy and soda, and then spread into adulthood, where we can’t brush off these sugars every day anymore. As this bacteria multiplies and grows in size, it begins to form tartar, which clumps together until it becomes so thick that it blocks out light from the roots of our teeth.
Although tartar formation isn’t harmful to our bodies, it does cause problems by blocking out the room for healthy gums and bone structure. When there are too many tartars present, they begin to irritate the gums and the surrounding tissue, causing inflammation and bleeding. Bacteria also colonize within the tartar itself, leading to even worse infection and decay. It’s not just adults who suffer from excess tartar buildup — children can get it, too. In fact, one study found that 50 percent of schoolchildren had some degree of periodontal disease [sources: CDC, ADA].
If you’ve been diagnosed with gingivitis or milder cases of moderate gum disease, you might be tempted to take matters into your own hands and clean your teeth yourself using over-the-counter products that contain benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, sodium lauryl sulfate or triclosan. But if you’re serious about fighting against tartar, you should consult a professional. Not all over-the-counter treatments work as well as those prescribed by dentists, because the latter usually include medications like tetracycline, doxycycline and erythromycin, along with special tools like manual and electric toothbrushes, flosses and interdental brushes. These medicated products can help fight bacteria directly while removing plaque and tartar simultaneously.
Dentists use several methods to remove tartar from teeth, including manual scraping, ultrasonic devices, air polishing systems and lasers. Some of these procedures require additional visits to the office, while others can be performed during regular checkups. However, no matter what technique is used, tartar removal requires patience and diligence on behalf of both patient and dentist.
First up, let’s look at how tartar is removed manually.
Removing Tarter With Your Hands
Scaling and Root Planing
Other Ways To Get Rid Of Plaque And Tarter

Removing Tarter With Your Hands
In order to effectively remove tartar from teeth, your dentist or hygienist will first need to perform a thorough exam. He or she will examine each individual tooth, noting any cavities, broken fillings, missing teeth and other conditions that could affect treatment options. Next, he or she will measure the space between adjacent teeth, known as the “mesio-distal dimension.” This measurement determines whether scaling and root planing is necessary to remove tartar, since most people don’t have enough mesio-distal space to accommodate proper tartar removal through simple brushing alone.
After determining the tartar-fighting needs of your mouth, the next step is to select a suitable tool for the job. A typical oral hygiene kit includes a set of soft, round nylon bristles called a prophy-ring, a small rubber cup filled with abrasive material called a prophylacrematic tip and a handle attached to a rotating shaft. Using a finger-tip pressure, the dentist gently rubs the prophy-ring back and forth against the front surfaces of the teeth, while the prophylacrematic tip scrapes away hardened deposits of plaque and tartar. Because of the soft bristle tips, this method is safe for sensitive gums and minimally invasive for patients with limited access to their mouths.
Another option available to patients is a tartar scraper. Similar to prophy rings, these tools feature long, thin stainless steel blades covered in plastic handles. Like prophy rings, however, the majority of tartar removal occurs due to friction created by the scraping action of the blade. Although less effective than prophy rings, they’re popular among patients who don’t want to spend money on new equipment.
For those who prefer noninvasive approaches to tartar removal, there are a few ways to attack tartar without having to visit the dentist’s office. Up next, find out how these techniques differ and why your dentist recommends them.
The American Dental Association recommends getting your fluoride supplement either from a dentist’s office or from a pharmacy. While it contains fluoride, it’s not FDA approved, and the AHA believes these supplements can expose users to contamination.
Scaling and Root Planing
One common way to remove tartar is through scaling and root planing, sometimes referred to as subgingival debridement. During this procedure, a dentist uses a series of instruments to carefully scrape away hardened deposits of plaque and tartar below the gum line. Afterward, the area is irrigated with antiseptic solutions to prevent infections and bleeding.
The effectiveness of this method depends largely on careful planning. Before beginning, the dentist must determine the extent of tartar accumulation within the patient’s gums. If there’s only mild tartar and minimal gum recession, then scaling is unnecessary. On the other hand, if the patient’s gums have receded and exposed the roots of his teeth, then scaling and root planing won’t suffice in thoroughly cleaning the affected areas. In addition, if the patient’s gums are severely inflamed, bleeding and prone to ulcerations, then scaling and root planing might not be appropriate.
As an alternative, a dentist may opt to prescribe antibiotic rinses instead of performing scaling and root planing. Rinses containing antibiotics reduce bacterial growth around the roots of teeth, and after repeated usage, the bacteria become incapable of growing again.
Although scaling and root planing aren’t always recommended, they are often employed as a last resort. For those who would rather avoid the risks associated with surgery, there are other ways to rid themselves of plaque and tartar — read on to learn more.
Root planing was once commonly used to treat severe gum diseases like periodontitis and aggressive types of gum infection. Nowadays, though, the benefits of root planing are primarily aesthetic, since it helps eliminate unsightly black spots under the gum line. Other purposes of root planing include improving the coloration of stained teeth and restoring the overall appearance of the face.
Other Ways To Get Rid Of Plaque And Tarter
Aside from scaling and root planing, there are other ways to remove plaque and tartar from teeth. One example is laser therapy, which works similarly to traditional scalers, except that it emits beams of energy instead of bristles. Laser therapy is typically performed inside a dental office, and it utilizes laser wavelengths similar to those used in tanning beds. Another noninvasive approach to tartar removal is ultrasound therapy. Instead of mechanical abrasion, ultrasound therapy relies on sound waves and vibrations to break down hardened deposits of plaque and tartar. Both of these therapies may be used in combination with other conventional methods.
Regardless of the specific method chosen, tartar removal takes time and effort. Since plaque and tartar build up gradually, it’s important to make sure you return to your dentist regularly for follow-up exams. Your dentist can advise you on your best course of action based on the results of your initial examination. At least twice a year, especially before receiving orthodontic braces, your dentist should clean beneath your gum line to ensure that tartar doesn’t accumulate underneath the brackets.

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