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An Overview of Tartar

From the time you were a child, you've known that it's important to brush and floss teeth regularly. Doing so prevents tartar buildup and keeps teeth and gums healthy.

But, you may not know exactly what this evil substance called tartar is, or how it ends up on your teeth. Oral health is intricately linked to overall well-being. So it's important to understand what leads to the formation of tartar. It's also important to know how to prevent its build-up and how it should be removed.

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What Is Tartar and Why Is It a Concern?

Even if you practice the best oral hygiene, there are bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria, along with proteins and food byproducts, form a sticky film called dental plaque. This film coats teeth. Plaque is most prevalent in areas that are hard to clean -- like the back teeth -- just along the gum line, and around fillings or other dental products.

Plaque can be bad news for teeth. Every time you eat, these bacteria secrete acids that can damage tooth enamel and lead to cavities. The acids can also cause inflammation and infection to your gums. But, if you remove plaque regularly with proper hygiene practices, you can prevent this assault on your teeth from leading to permanent tooth decay.

A bigger problem arises if plaque is allowed to remain on your teeth and harden. That can happen after just 26 hours. When this happens, the plaque hardens into tartar, or dental calculus. Because it has mineralized onto your teeth, tartar is far more difficult to remove than plaque.

How Does Tartar Affect Teeth and Gums?

Once tartar forms on teeth, it may be more difficult for you to brush and floss effectively. If this is the case, the acids released by the bacteria in your mouth are more likely to break down tooth enamel. That leads to cavities and tooth decay. The CDC estimates that more than 90% of adults over the age of 40 have some form of tooth decay.

Tartar that develops above the gum line can be especially serious. That's because the bacteria it harbors may irritate and damage gums. Over time, this inflammation can lead to progressive gum disease. Gum disease can have serious consequences if left untreated. According to the CDC, between 5% and 11% of adults are affected by advanced gum disease.

The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. This is the initial stage of gum inflammation caused by plaque and tartar on the teeth. Gingivitis can usually be stopped and reversed with careful brushing, flossing, and regular cleanings by dental professionals.

If tartar is not removed and gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress into a more serious form of gum disease. That more serious form is known as periodontitis. With this gum disease, pockets form between the gums and teeth. Those pockets become infected by bacteria beneath the gums. The body's immune system releases chemicals to fight the bacteria. These chemicals along with the substances the bacteria release can damage the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. This can lead ultimately to tooth loss and bone degradation. In addition, studies have shown that bacteria in gum disease may contribute to heart disease as well as other conditions.

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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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