If you forget to brush before you go to bed, you might wake up feeling like your teeth are “fuzzy” or rough to the touch. This sensation is a buildup of plaque, which, if not removed, can solidify into tartar on your teeth. Tartar is the hard, calcified byproduct of decay-causing bacteria, and besides being unsightly, is one of the earliest tooth decay stages.

What Is Tartar on Teeth?

Tartar, also called dental calculus, is a mixture of proteins, sugars, and carbs from the food we eat along with harmful bacteria that feed on these nutrients. The initial form of this calculus is called plaque, which is a sticky film that coats your teeth and gets under your gums, providing an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply. If not removed, this plaque hardens into tartar—a yellow, calcified material that is difficult to remove without specialized tools. You may have noticed tartar breaking off the back of your teeth where it collects easily in between trips to the dentist.

How Does Tartar Affect the Teeth and Gums?

Tartar provides a breeding ground for harmful bacteria that dissolve the hard enamel layer of your teeth and can irritate the gums or lead to diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis—which can lead to infection and more severe health problems. Because tartar is hard, it’s also more difficult to brush and floss it away than you would plaque.

How to Stop the Buildup of Tartar on Teeth

Removing tartar starts by paying close attention to your teeth cleaning process. Brushing twice per day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing before bed, and using antiseptic mouthwash all stop plaque from forming and hardening into tartar on teeth and other oral structures. Try these other tips for controlling tartar buildup:

Brush for at least two minutes. Studies have shown that brushing for longer removes more tartar and plaque from your teeth. A quick 30-second scrub isn’t effective at removing tartar, and it’s important to focus on every surface of your teeth—especially hard-to-reach areas like your back molars.

Use an electric toothbrush. While any brush is better than nothing, electric toothbrushes have been found to remove more tartar than their handheld counterparts. Be sure you choose a brush with soft bristles and one that is appropriately sized for your mouth. Make sure your brush has been approved and quality control tested by the American Dental Association (ADA).

Choose a tartar control and fluoride toothpaste. Some tartar control products have a substance called triclosan that fights the bacteria in plaque, while fluoride seals any gaps in your enamel that may have been decayed.

Floss! Brushing your teeth is important, but the only way to remove tartar and decay from the crucial areas between your teeth is by flossing at least once per day—typically before bedtime.

Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash. You can find alcohol-free mouthwashes that kill the bacteria that cause plaque and tartar buildup.

Bacteria throve on leftover sugary and starchy foods in your mouth, consuming them and releasing harmful acids. This doesn’t mean you need to give up your favorite foods, but when you consume a sweet treat or snack, try drinking some water to remove the leftover food and balance your diet with fresh vegetables or dairy—foods that are proven to help fight tartar-causing bacteria.

Smoking dries out the mouth, removing beneficial saliva that continually rinses away harmful bacteria. Quitting smoking can be one of the single most effective things you can do for your oral (and overall) health.

How to Remove Tartar From Teeth

Unfortunately, once tartar is hardened onto your teeth, it can be difficult to remove. If you live in Northern Nevada, preventive dentistry in Reno is your best option for controlling tartar buildup in the first place. Regular dental checkups are crucial, as your dentist has specialty tools they can use to scrape or brush away the tartar more effectively than your home toothbrush. Some of these tools include specialized metal utensils, high-grit polish, and pressurized water to blast any tartar away from hard-to-reach areas. Seeing your dentist for cleaning and inspection at least once every 6 months can keep your smile tartar-free and healthy all year.

If you’re looking for a dentist in South Reno and have questions about how to remove tartar from teeth or are looking for treatment, come see us at Champagne Family Dentistry. For over 40 years, our practice has helped patients of all ages stay tartar-free with preventive dentistry in Reno. Call our front office—or our sister location Champagne Family Dentistry Sparks NV—today to learn more about preventive dental care in Reno and make your first appointment!