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Does anything dissolve tartar?

Tartar, also known as dental calculus, refers to the hard, yellowish deposit that can form on teeth when plaque is not removed properly. Tartar is caused by an accumulation of bacteria, food debris, minerals from saliva, and plaque on the teeth. Over time, these substances combine and harden into tartar that sticks to the teeth. While tartar does not cause harm directly, it can lead to more plaque accumulation, tooth decay, and periodontal disease. Therefore, it is important to remove tartar regularly through brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings. This article explores whether anything can dissolve tartar to remove it from the teeth.

What is tartar?

Tartar, or calculus, refers to the hard deposit that forms when plaque accumulates on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria and forms naturally on the teeth. When plaque is not removed through brushing and flossing, the bacteria continue to produce acids that can damage tooth enamel. Plaque also hardens over time into tartar due to the mineral content of saliva. The longer plaque stays on the teeth, the more chance it has to harden into tartar.

The main ingredient of tartar is calcium phosphate – the same mineral that makes up tooth enamel and bones. This mineral combines with plaque and saliva to crystallize into a hard deposit. Tartar also contains traces of magnesium, potassium, and ammonia. Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed by brushing or flossing alone because it adheres tightly to the teeth. Over time, increasing amounts of tartar can build up into a hard, crusty deposit.

Risks and effects of tartar

While tartar itself does not cause harm, it has several detrimental effects on oral health:

  • Tooth decay – Tartar is porous and provides an ideal environment for plaque bacteria to thrive. The bacteria produce acids that can demineralize and damage tooth enamel, resulting in cavities.
  • Gingivitis – The bacteria in plaque cause inflammation and bleeding in the gums, also known as gingivitis. This can progress to periodontitis and receding gums if tartar continues to accumulate.
  • Tooth discoloration – Tartar above the gumline can appear as yellowish or brownish stains on the teeth.
  • Halitosis – The bacteria in tartar produce foul-smelling gases that cause bad breath.
  • Difficulty cleaning – Hardened tartar makes it difficult to thoroughly clean teeth with a toothbrush. Areas underneath tartar can become inaccessible.
  • Bone loss – In advanced stages, the inflammation caused by tartar and plaque bacteria can lead to loss of the bone and soft tissue surrounding teeth.

For these reasons, it is important to remove tartar regularly through professional dental cleanings and daily oral hygiene.

Can anything dissolve tartar at home?

While no home remedies can fully remove hardened tartar, there are some methods that may help loosen and reduce some buildup:

Baking soda

Baking soda is a mildly abrasive substance often used for cleaning and whitening teeth. The gritty texture of baking soda may help scrub off some superficial tartar. Add a small amount of baking soda to your regular toothpaste and brush teeth thoroughly with the mixture. Be careful not to scrub too hard to avoid damaging tooth enamel.

Hydrogen peroxide

As an oxidizing agent, hydrogen peroxide helps kill bacteria in the mouth. Diluted hydrogen peroxide can be swished around the mouth for 30-60 seconds to help remove some tartar buildup and reduce plaque. However, hydrogen peroxide can irritate soft tissues so this should not be done too frequently.

Salicylic acid

Some over-the-counter tartar removal products contain salicylic acid. This ingredient works by slightly dissolving the calcium salts in tartar. However, its effects are relatively minor and salicylic acid does not penetrate into thick tartar.

Phosphoric acid

Phosphoric acid is sometimes used in professional-grade tartar removal gels and pastes. Being a stronger acid, it is more effective than salicylic acid. However, these products still require mechanical scrubbing to fully remove tartar. They should not be used frequently as the acid can damage tooth enamel.


As a mild acid, some claim that white vinegar may have a slight dissolving effect on tartar. However, there is limited scientific evidence that vinegar works significantly better than regular brushing with toothpaste. The acetic acid in vinegar may also irritate tissues with frequent use.

Professional tartar removal

While home remedies can help loosen some tartar, they generally cannot fully remove hard calculus deposits. The most effective way to remove tartar is through professional dental cleanings.

Tartar removal is performed by a dental hygienist or dentist using specialized tools to manually scrape and polish each tooth above and below the gumline. This is known as scaling and polishing. Methods include:

Hand scalers

Hand scalers are handheld metal instruments with a sharp, curved edge. These are manually scraped along the teeth at the base of tartar to chip it away.

Ultrasonic scalers

Ultrasonic scalers use high-frequency sound vibrations to loosen tartar for easy removal. They allow for efficient and thorough calculus removal.

Dental polish

A gritty dental polish is applied after scaling to smooth and shine the teeth. This also removes any remaining debris.

Air polishing

Air polishing systems use compressed air and water to spray away residual tartar and stains. Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate particles are sometimes used as a gentle abrasive.

Professional tartar removal is usually performed along with routine dental cleanings every 6 to 12 months. Removing tartar helps prevent more plaque accumulation and allows better cleaning of the teeth.

Tips for preventing tartar buildup

While professional cleanings are needed to remove existing tartar, daily home care helps inhibit further calculus formation. Prevention tips include:

  • Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day using proper technique. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss between teeth daily to remove plaque from interdental areas.
  • Rinse mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce oral bacteria.
  • Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks that promote plaque acidity.
  • Drink fluoridated water to strengthen tooth enamel.
  • Chew xylitol gum to boost saliva flow and neutralize plaque acids.
  • Get professional cleanings every 6 months to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar.

With diligent oral care and professional cleanings, tartar can be controlled and prevented from excessively accumulating. However, some degree of tartar buildup is inevitable. Getting regular dental exams and cleanings is key to managing tartar and maintaining good oral health.


In summary, while no home remedies can completely dissolve tartar, certain methods like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dental acids may help loosen some buildup when combined with thorough brushing. However, hardened calculus requires professional removal through scaling and polishing techniques. Preventing excessive tartar requires diligent daily brushing and flossing, use of antiseptic mouthwashes, a healthy diet low in sugary foods, and regular dental cleanings. With proper oral hygiene and professional care, tartar can be well controlled.