Tartar, also known as dental calculus, refers to the yellow or brown mineralized deposits that can form on teeth. Tartar is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, that builds up on teeth. Plaque that is not removed from teeth mineralizes into tartar, which then sticks to teeth and can only be removed by a dental professional. Tartar below the gumline that is not removed can cause inflammation and infection known as periodontal disease. Therefore, it is important to prevent and remove tartar. Some people claim that gargling with salt water can help remove tartar and clean teeth. In this article, we will analyze whether salt water is actually effective for removing tartar.
What Causes Tartar?
Tartar begins to form when plaque is not adequately removed from teeth. Plaque is a biofilm composed of bacteria, saliva, and food debris that sticks to the teeth and builds up. If plaque is not removed through adequate daily brushing and flossing, the bacteria in the plaque produce acids that can demineralize the teeth and irritate the gums. As the plaque biofilm continues to grow and mature, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to mineralize the plaque, forming tartar.
Tartar is yellow or brown in color and forms a hard, rough surface on the teeth. It sticks firmly to the teeth near and below the gumline. Brushing and flossing can’t remove mature tartar; it requires professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. They use specialized dental instruments to scrape and polish the teeth to thoroughly remove tartar deposits.
Is Salt Water Effective Against Tartar?
Salt is known for its antimicrobial properties. In high concentrations, salt can draw water out of microbial cells through osmosis, dehydrating and killing the microbes. Some people claim that swishing salt water around the mouth creates a high-salt solution that can kill the oral bacteria that cause plaque and tartar.
However, there is no scientific evidence that gargling with salt water will remove existing tartar. By the time tartar has mineralized on the teeth, it is too hard and adhered to the tooth surface to be impacted by salt. The only way to physically remove tartar is through professional dental cleaning.
Salt water may help prevent new tartar formation by reducing oral bacteria and plaque levels. However, it cannot substitute proper oral hygiene with brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings. While salty solutions may slightly reduce bacteria, they cannot penetrate and dissolve tartar deposits. Salt also does not affect the mineralization process.
Studies on Salt Water Rinses
There are a few studies that have looked at the effects of salt water rinses on oral bacteria and dental plaque:
- One study found that rinsing with 0.05% salt water solution reduced salivary bacteria counts, but only for up to 2 hours. The effect was temporary.
- Another study showed that high-salt solutions like medicated mouthwashes had substantial antibacterial activity in the lab, but this effect was drastically reduced in the oral cavity.
- Some studies found salt water rinses reduced plaque levels in orthodontic patients with fixed appliances compared to no rinse. However, salt rinses were not as effective as chlorhexidine antimicrobial rinses.
Overall, research shows salt may have a mild, temporary antibacterial effect. But there is no evidence showing salt water disrupts existing tartar. The most effective way to remove tartar is through professional dental cleanings and good at-home oral hygiene.
Can Salt Damage Teeth?
There are some risks to using salt water long-term. High-salt solutions may damage the teeth over time:
- Salt is abrasive and could scrub away protective enamel over time.
- The high osmolarity of concentrated salt solutions can draw fluid out of cells. This may dry out and irritate oral tissues.
- Frequent exposure to high salt concentrations could increase risk of tooth decay. Salt may erode enamel, increasing vulnerability to acid.
- For people with periodontal disease, salt rinses may aggravate inflammation and other symptoms.
Diluted salt water rinses and occasional use likely pose minimal risk. But high-concentration salt gargling, especially daily long-term use, could have adverse effects on oral health.
How to Use Salt Water Rinses Safely
If you wish to try salt water rinses, here are some tips to use them safely and effectively:
- Use warm salt water at the lowest effective concentration. 0.05%-0.1% solutions have been shown most effective.
- Limit rinses to 1-2 times per day at most.
- Rinse and spit out after 30 seconds. Don’t swish for too long.
- Wait at least 1 hour before brushing teeth after a salt rinse to protect enamel.
- Consider adding baking soda to salt solution for added plaque removal. The combination can help disrupt biofilms.
- Don’t use salt rinses for more than 1-2 weeks at a time. Take periodic breaks.
- See your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral evaluation.
Salt water rinses should complement regular brushing and flossing, not substitute proper oral hygiene. They are not a cure-all treatment.
Other Natural Remedies for Tartar
In addition to salt water, there are some other natural remedies claimed to help prevent tartar buildup and reduce plaque:
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a mildly abrasive powder that can help scrub plaque off teeth. It also neutralizes acid and may disrupt biofilm formation. However, baking soda is also abrasive enough to damage enamel with excessive use.
Hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic agent that produces bubbling foam when applied to teeth. It can help loosen plaque and provide antibacterial activity against gum disease bacteria. Using hydrogen peroxide once or twice a week reduces plaque and gingivitis.
Oil pulling involves swishing oil, like coconut or sesame oil, around the mouth for up to 20 minutes. The viscous oil helps dislodge bacteria and plaque. However, oil pulling alone cannot remove tartar deposits.
Research shows aloe vera juice and gel have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects in the oral cavity. Aloe vera could aid gum health and slow plaque accumulation when used regularly.
Clove oil applied topically can reduce oral bacteria due to its high content of the compound eugenol. This may help inhibit plaque and reduce risk of decay and gingivitis. But clove oil cannot directly remove tartar.
When to See a Dentist
While some natural remedies may reduce plaque and gingivitis when used alongside regular brushing and flossing, they cannot remove tartar below the gumline or advanced buildup. Signs it may be time to see a dentist include:
- Visible yellow or brown deposits on teeth
- Stains between teeth that don’t rubbed off with brushing
- Surface roughness or bumps on teeth
- Gums that bleed during brushing or flossing
- Chronic bad breath
- Increased tooth sensitivity or receding gums
See a dentist every 6 months for a professional cleaning and tartar removal. This is the only way to thoroughly remove built-up calculus on teeth. Be wary of any home remedy that claims to remove existing tartar deposits.
The Bottom Line
Salt water rises are unlikely to remove existing tartar below the gumline. However, salt may have a mild antibacterial effect and could help temporarily reduce plaque levels when used occasionally. Yet frequent high-concentration salt exposure could potentially damage teeth. Tartar ultimately requires professional cleaning for thorough removal. Natural remedies can reduce plaque and gingivitis when combined with proper oral hygiene, but cannot substitute the need for regular dental cleanings.