Our dental hygiene team explains what these terms mean and the implications for your teeth.
It is quite likely that several of you will have wondered what some of the words mean that dentists use, for example when recording information during your six monthly check ups.
Some of the terms are ones that patients rarely come across, but some you may be more familiar with, but not really know what they mean. Two common words used that fall into this bracket are ‘tartar’ and ‘calculus’. In fact, these two terms essentially mean the same thing.
Both of these terms sometimes get mixed up with ‘plaque’ which is slightly different. Plaque is a collection of bacteria that forms in a sticky substance on the teeth and gum line. Providing that you brush and floss your teeth well, this should not cause any real problems, providing that you also see a hygienist every six months or so.
What is tartar (calculus)?
Tartar is a form of hardened plaque. A mixture of saliva and fluid from the gums acts to kill off the bacteria, but this then forms a type of ‘crust’ on the teeth. This rough surface is then, an ideal collecting ground for further bacteria that is much harder to remove. The rough surfaces will also attract staining materials and tooth discolouration is more likely. These are not the only problems though, and tartar (calculus) , where not removed, will lead to some of the more common symptoms associated with gum disease; namely inflamed or receding gums and halitosis, or bad breath.
To put the two terms into historical context. The word ‘calculus’ is thought to come from Latin, meaning ‘small stones’, whereas tartar is thought to originate from the Greek word ‘tartaron’, meaning the crust that formed inside flasks. It is easy to see how these words become synonymous with this particular dental condition.
How it affects your teeth and gums
As we have already mentioned, the rough surface formed is a ‘magnet’ for further bacteria. As this causes the gums to become inflamed, they can pull away from the teeth. This allows the calculus to spread deeper and even as far as the roots of the tooth and the bone tissue; becoming a serious threat to the survival of your teeth, and also proving very difficult to treat.
How do I know if I have it?
There are a few potential tell tale signs that calculus, or tartar, may be building up on your teeth and gum line. Discolouration is one of these, and if you are able to look at the rear of your bottom teeth especially, you may well find that these are very dark in colour. Running your tongue along the surface of your teeth is a useful way of detecting any rough surfaces. The rougher the surface of your teeth, both front and back, the more likely it is that tartar formation is present.
Ultimately, the only way to be sure if you have this problem or not, is to allow one of the hygienists at our Greenwich dental practice to examine your teeth and gums. They are trained to spot this and other other related problems that may be present.
What can I do about it?
The most obvious thing that the patient is in control of is to prevent the build up of tartar in the first place. It is almost certain that some will occur, however well you clean, but you can certainly keep the level down. Regular brushing, morning and night, and the use of floss to remove any bacteria from between your teeth, will really help to keep your mouth healthy and at least slow down this problem.
Try also to stay hydrated, as the number of bacteria multiply in a dry and warm environment such as a dry mouth.
Tartar and calculus removal
Once the ‘crust’ has formed on your teeth, there is almost nothing that the patient can do about it themselves. Whilst you should still brush your teeth, this alone will not remove the tartar. This can only be done with a ‘scale and polish’ which can be performed at the Confidental Clinic by one of our hygienists.
To remove the build up, our hygienist will firstly, use a handheld implement to remove the excess ‘crust’. Following this, a sonic tool is used which shatters the majority of what remains, and removing it. To finish this straightforward and pain-free treatment, a high speed dental brush is used to remove any deposit that is left. This process not only helps to ensure that you have a healthy mouth, but will also remove much of the roughness on your teeth, along with some surface staining. You will find that your teeth not only feel healthier, but will look much nicer too.
It should be noted, that, if you don’t see a hygienist to have this removed, every six months or so, the risk of bacteria spreading to the roots of the teeth and bone is much higher. This can lead to a gum disease known as periodontitis and can only be treated by a ‘deep clean’. This is a highly invasive treatment that has to be performed by a suitably skilled dentist or specialist and will require local anaesthetic. It is far better to make sure that your teeth never reach this stage and have them professionally cleaned regularly!
To arrange to see a hygienist at the Confidental Clinic in Greenwich, please call us on 020 8858 1422.