Woman standing in washroom with toothbrush to remove tartar

If you come into our office for a dental exam and cleanings, we’ll scrape away the tartar that formed on your teeth since your last cleaning. Tartar often hides at the tooth's base and can make its way past the gum line.

How do you remove tartar without a dentist?

We’ll explain the best way to limit tartar and maintain the best oral hygiene possible.

What is Tartar?

Bacteria in your mouth form naturally as foods mix with your saliva. Over time, plaque begins to form on your teeth and will cause a “sticky film” to form that you brush away. However, imagine that you don’t brush your teeth often enough and plaque is allowed to stay on your teeth.

Tartar is the result of plaque being allowed to remain on the surface of the teeth, leading to it hardening and causing discoloration. Once the plaque hardens, it is considered tartar.

As you likely know, plaque is responsible for cavities and tooth decay, and when it hardens, it’s even more difficult for you to remove.

Why is Tartar Bad?

Tartar may be “no worse” than plaque from its description, but it’s not the same as plaque. You can brush plaque away, but tartar is more stubborn and will not easily come off of your teeth. Additionally, tartar will lead to:

  • Discoloration of your teeth. In fact, tartar can also hold on to stains from tobacco, causing your teeth to lose their beautiful white appearance. Close to your gum line, tartar will begin to yellow and even brown if it persists.
  • Tartar can lead to gum irritation, and this is one of the main concerns that patients overlook. When the gums are irritated, they can begin to inflame. For some people, the tartar will reach under their gums, causing their gums to recede in the process. An infection may also occur, called periodontitis. Periodontitis can lead to serious health risks, such as a higher risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • Tartar will also increase the area of growth for bacteria, spreading to other areas of the tooth and allowing decay to increase.
Gum disease and tartar build up
Gum Disease and Tartar Build Up

When you come in for a dental cleaning, we will remove the tartar on the surface of the teeth and also any that is hiding underneath the gums. If we can remove the tartar quickly, it’s unlikely that it will cause lasting dental issues.

However, if you haven’t visited the office for a long time, you risk periodontitis, which can cause a wide range of dental health concerns, including the loosening and loss of your teeth.

How We Remove Tartar During Dental Exams and Cleanings

When you sit in our chair for a dental cleaning, we’ll use a hand-held scaler, which looks like a “hook” on the end. Hygienists will use the scaler to scrape away tartar and plaque from your teeth.

We focus on tartar removal because if you have too much tartar, it can cause gum disease.

If we find that you have significant tartar buildup, we may need to perform a deep cleaning that will involve:

  1. Scaling
  2. Root planing

As you’ll learn from our exam and cleaning, hygienists will examine your mouth and begin removing any buildup that has occurred. Scraping helps us nudge off plaque that has hardened into tartar. Follow here to see the cost of a cleaning in BC in 2023.

Teeth scaling
Teeth scaling

Hygienists will then move closer to the gum line and begin removing some of the tartar under the gums if it has infiltrated this area of your mouth. Then, the hygienist will begin to floss between your teeth to help remove any buildup or stuck food particles.

It’s important for us to remove the plaque that may have been left behind when using the scraper.

Finally, once we’re confident that all of the plaque and tartar are removed from the tooth’s surface, we’ll end the cleaning with what is known as “polishing.” Polishing is a “gritty” sort of toothpaste that we use to deep clean your teeth and leave it with a nice shine.

Tooth polishing
Tooth polishing

Fluoride treatments may be recommended, too. These treatments are very important if you want to prevent cavities. If you already use fluoride and we find that your dental hygiene is good, we may not recommend this additional procedure for you.

With the help of dental mirrors, we’ll even look at areas of your teeth that are nearly impossible for you to see without a mirror.

How You Can Remove Tartar Without a Dentist

Combatting tartar is a group effort, and it’s something that you should be doing on your own. First and foremost, you need to start brushing your teeth at least twice per day if you want to remove tartar.

Poor oral hygiene is the leading cause of tartar buildup. And, don’t forget to floss, too.

Now, once you start following a routine that you stick to, it’s time to follow the steps below to try and remove as much tartar as you can.

1. Start Using an Electric Toothbrush

Manual toothbrushes are a popular choice among our patients, but they’re nowhere near as efficient as electric toothbrushes. You can find these brushes in retail stores or even at your favorite online destination.

Studies on electric toothbrushes find that using them can:

  • Reduce gum inflammation
  • Remove more plaque than a traditional toothbrush
  • Fight back against gingivitis
  • Remove up to 100% more plaque than a regular toothbrush

If you want to stop tartar, you need to reduce plaque. Switching to an electric toothbrush is the leading way that our patients improve their oral hygiene outside of the dental chair. We recommend purchasing a brush that has a timer built-in, so you can monitor how long you’ve been brushing your teeth.

2. Use Fluoride Toothpaste

What type of toothpaste do you prefer? Look at the back of your toothpaste container and see if it contains any fluoride. If it does contain this ingredient, how much fluoride does it have? Ideally, you’ll have between 1,350 and 1,500ppm of fluoride in your toothpaste to maximize its benefits.

Fluoride works to control dental cavities, and it also strengthens your tooth’s enamel. Enamel strengthening reduces the risk of acid eating away the enamel and causing decay. This key ingredient will also stop plaque from hardening, which is exactly what you want if you want to obliterate tartar on your own.

3. Brush Twice Per Day for Two Minutes Each Time

Your mouth is comprised of four quadrants, and you should spend thirty seconds or so brushing each of these quadrants. If you don’t brush adequately, you risk plaque building up and causing tooth decay.

Tartar will also form if you’re not brushing each quadrant thoroughly.

If you’re still brushing with a manual toothbrush, you can put a timer on your phone to monitor your brushing time. Electric toothbrushes often have their owner alarms built into them that provide an auditory alert that you’ve brushed for thirty seconds or two minutes.

There are also studies that show brushing for three minutes removed an additional 55% of plaque when compared to a thirty-second session.

4. Floss At Least Once Per Day

Flossing is one of the most underappreciated parts of dental hygiene because people simply do not like to floss. If you floss too feverishly and hit your gums, it can lead to pain and even bleeding, something that may stop you from flossing regularly.

Flossing to prevent tartar

However, flossing helps you clean between your teeth in ways that brushing cannot.

Instead of being afraid of flossing, it’s best to:

  • Floss slowly
  • Practice flossing to stop “painful accidents”

If you floss slowly, there’s less of a risk that you’ll hit your gums and cause pain and discomfort in the process. When you combine flossing and brushing your teeth regularly, it will reduce your risks of gum disease.

Water flossers are another option for anyone who wants a gentler way to floss their teeth.

5. Add Antibacterial Mouthwash Into Your Routine

Mouthwash is a great addition to any dental routine because it allows you to kill bacteria in your mouth and freshen your breath at the same time. You’ll also find that mouthwash will help you reduce pesky plaque build-up, greatly improving your oral hygiene in the process.

However, we do want to caution against just using mouthwash as it will not replace brushing or flossing. If you follow any step in this list, it must be brushing. Adding in all of the additional tips will help maximize your oral hygiene.

Note: It may be tempting to use a scraper at home and try to mimic the way that our dental hygienists clean your teeth. The main issue is that you’re not a trained professional, and it takes years for these professionals to master using scrapers.

If you’re not trained to use these tools, you risk causing an infection and mouth injuries.

Even if you follow our advice on the best way to remove tartar, you’ll want to schedule a routine dental exam and cleanings. Our team is trained to remove tartar that hides beyond the teeth' surface and can cause serious damage to your gums.

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Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu - Dentist at Lighthouse Dental Centre and Blue Water Dental
Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu

With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Sidhu enjoys helping his patients learn about dentistry. Knowledge is meant to be improved, challenged and shared.

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