Removing Tartar: Methods, Effectiveness & Safety

Removing Tartar: Methods, Effectiveness & Safety
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Removing Tartar: Methods, Effectiveness & SafetyClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Tartar vs. Plaque
  2. Tartar Removal at Home
  3. Dentist Removal of Tartar
  4. Preventing Tartar Build-Up
  5. Preventative Efforts in Reducing Tartar
  6. References
It’s essential to remove tartar from your teeth, as it can lead to worn enamel, gum disease, and cavities. While you can prevent tartar build-up at home, you can’t remove it yourself. Your dentist will need to remove it with scraping tools.

Is Tartar Different Than Plaque?

You may notice that your teeth change a little between your visits to the dentist. They may become off-white or stained, develop areas of darker deposits, or have a different appearance on the back compared to the front. This is a normal process of tartar build-up, which dentists call calculus. Even though it is normal for most people to develop these deposits between cleanings, it does indicate that you should schedule that cleaning with your dentist.

Tartar, or calculus, develops over time from plaque, which is a clear, sticky film that develops regularly on the surface of your teeth. Plaque often contains bacteria that feed on leftovers from your food and drink that may be found in your mouth, and secrete acids to change the delicate chemical balance on your teeth and gums. This can lead to sensitivity in your teeth and gums, worn enamel, and eventually cavities and gum disease.

Regular brushing, flossing, and other oral care procedures at home help to reduce plaque build-up in your mouth, but you will still need to see your dentist for routine cleaning.

Can I Remove Tartar at Home?

Some people are more prone to tartar build-up than others, which may mean you experience gum disease or cavities more often, need to visit your dentist for more cleanings, or even need special treatment to reduce infections in your mouth. This can be very frustrating, especially if you do your best to maintain good oral health at home.

Because so many people struggle with regular dental appointments or needing extra cleanings, there are tartar removal kits that you can allegedly use at home. These may include dental tools, which are dangerous to use on yourself, especially without proper dental training.

Other kits may offer “natural” remedies that claim to remove tartar, but they actually reduce plaque build-up the same way that regular brushing and flossing will. Some home tartar “remedies” can put you at greater risk of gum disease and damage to your teeth by increasing the acidity in your mouth, cracking your teeth, or impacting your gumline.

You should never try to self-clean tartar at home. Although a twice-daily oral hygiene routine is important for reducing plaque and tartar build-up, tartar must be removed by a trained dentist.

How Will My Dentist Remove Tartar From My Teeth?

Between once and twice per year, your dentist will clean your teeth. This is a routine part of many dentist visits. Sometimes, though, your dentist may notice that you have a build-up of tartar, which requires a deeper cleaning, called a scale and polish.

The scale and polish is a common type of deep cleaning that a dentist or dental hygienist can perform. During a scale and polish, your dentist will:

  • Use special scraping tools to remove tough areas of tartar build-up.
  • Polish your teeth to remove any stains or thinner areas of tartar build-up.
  • Apply topical anesthetic if your gums or teeth are sensitive to scraping instruments.

It is possible you will need more than one scale and polish treatment. If you have extensive tartar or calculus build-up, you may need additional types of deep cleaning like root planing or debridement. Your dentist will discuss these further types of cleaning with you as necessary.

If you regularly visit your dentist for check-ups and cleanings, you typically will only need the occasional scale and polish. Your dentist will usually not recommend another visit for at least six months.

Tartar, or calculus, is a build-up of a darker substance that stains your teeth and can lead to infections; more importantly, your dentist needs to remove this substance, as you cannot effectively do it at home.

Preventing Tartar Build-Up at Home

The most important way to keep your mouth healthy and reduce the amount of plaque in your mouth, which might turn into tartar build-up, is with regular brushing and flossing. Dentists recommend brushing at least twice per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

Here are some other common recommendations for good oral hygiene:

  • Make sure the toothbrush you use fits in your mouth and reaches all areas, including behind your molars, easily.
  • Brush all tooth surfaces in gentle circles for at least two minutes.
  • Replace your toothbrush ever three to four months.
  • Use a recommended toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Use dental floss to remove food and plaque from between the teeth.
  • Use a recommended mouthwash or rinse.

If you need additional help reducing plaque and tartar build-up, you can also consider these options for healthier teeth:

Brush with Baking Soda
Medical studies show that baking soda, either in toothpaste or sprinkled on top of your toothpaste once per day, can improve oral hygiene in two ways. First, the fine grains gently remove plaque build-up without harming your enamel, and second, the pH balance of baking soda can neutralize acidic drinks, foods, or bacterial secretions.
Try Oil Pulling with Coconut Oil
Oil pulling is allegedly an ancient method of cleaning teeth. Modern types of oil like coconut oil have some improved antimicrobial properties that can help your oral hygiene. Studies into pulling with coconut oil, as part of an overall oral hygiene routine, found reductions in gingivitis symptoms.
Use Charcoal Toothbrushes or Toothpastes

Powders, toothpastes, and even toothbrushes with embedded activated charcoal are very popular approaches to improving oral hygiene. Some types of activated charcoal in toothpaste30412-9/fulltext) can work in a similar way to baking soda, but it is important to be cautious and ask your dentist for charcoal toothpaste or powder recommendations.

Some “all-natural” types of activated charcoal toothpastes, powders, or toothbrushes can cause too much wear and tear on your enamel. They can irritate your gums, which can have a negative impact on your oral health.

The steps above can be good additions to your regular oral care routine, but they should not replace brushing and flossing at least twice per day.

Preventative Efforts & Regular Dentist Visits Combined Reduce Tartar Build-Up

Since tartar is caused by plaque build-up over time, it is not possible or safe to remove this substance from your teeth at home. Your dentist and dental hygienist have specific types of deep cleaning methods that are safe and effective. You may only need this treatment once in a while to ensure your mouth is as healthy as possible.

Ask your dentist about the best oral care routine for you to practice at home, if you should consider adding additional steps like brushing with baking soda, and how often you need regular versus deep cleanings. Keep up with your dentist visits and practice prevention at home to best reduce tartar build-up.


What Is the Difference Between Plaque and Calculus? American Academy of Periodontology. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Can You Remove Tartar at Home? Colgate. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Brushing Your Teeth. Mouth Healthy from the American Dental Association. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Treatment: Gum Disease. (February 2019). National Health Service ( Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Effect of Baking Soda in Dentifrices on Plaque Removal. (November 2017). Journal of the American Dental Association. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Effect of Coconut Oil in Plaque Related Gingivitis – A Preliminary Report. (March-April 2015). Nigerian Medical Journal. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Charcoal and Charcoal-Based Dentifrices30412-9/fulltext). (June 2017). Journal of the American Dental Association. Date fetched: April 29, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.