Have you ever wondered: “Why pay for costly dental procedures when there are free online tutorials and YouTube videos of DIY alternatives?”
In this article we will explain in detail why removing tartar at home may not be the best idea (and in fact may be harmful to your teeth!).
The problem: tartar on your teeth
How to remove tartar at home? To start off, there are two kinds of subsequent things that will happen to your teeth if you don’t clean them properly and frequently enough:
- The first thing that will appear on your teeth is plaque, which is a colorless sticky form of bacteria – a substance that constantly builds up on your teeth. Scientifically speaking it’s a “biofilm” – a mass of bacteria that grows on surfaces within the mouth.
Keep in mind that you can’t really prevent it from happening just as you can’t remove all the bacteria from your mouth, yet luckily you can easily clean it by brushing and flossing (if you do it frequently enough). But since human beings are imperfect creatures, in the long run, you probably won’t be able to clean it off perfectly, which leads to the next condition…
- If the cleaning process fails somehow the next stage is tartar or dental calculus which is a form of hardened plaque (it’s accumulation not only of plaque but also of minerals, organic compounds, food particles, and debris). In contrast to plaque, it is visible, at least as long as it’s above the gumline, and yes, you can get tartar below the gumline as well!
If it comes to this point you can’t really remove it just by brushing or flossing as calculus is too firmly attached (too hard) to be removed with flossing or a toothbrush. To get rid of calculus dentists use ultrasonic scalers, but even if your toothbrush is sonic or ultrasonic that won’t do the trick either – its power is simply too low, yet these toothbrushes are more effective in removing plaque, so tartar buildup will be reduced over time. Also please note that you may get calculus even with perfect oral hygiene as studies show that it may form by direct mineralization of the pellicle (even without having plaque deposits).
Tartar buildup is dependent on many factors – some under your control (like diet, oral hygiene, tobacco, and drug use), and some not (like genetics, age, gender, medications, etc.). Having calculus on your teeth won’t kill you, but in the long run, it’s not good for your health. It will irritate your gingiva which leads to inflammation, and if you have a less fortunate genetic background it may even progress to periodontal disease (and that is a serious condition!). It also increases the chances of getting a new cavity as well as promoting bad breath and receding gums.
The solution: DIY tartar removal
Luckily typing “remove tartar at home” into your favorite search engine gives you plenty of DIY options to get rid of this problem at home. Or does it? Below we discuss products recommended in DIY tartar removal videos and articles with a commentary on their possible benefits and hazards. Basically, there are three kinds of natural ingredients presented in such tutorials (usually mixed into some kind of a sinister solution):
- Ones that can damage your enamel by their high acidity
- Ones that can damage your enamel by their abrasiveness
- Ones that won’t harm your teeth but won’t fix the tartar either
Okay, without further ado, here’s the list:
What softens tartar? Removing/dissolving tartar with apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, lemon juice, orange peel, ascorbic acid, etc.
Let’s start off with the worst ideas – very acidic low pH substances. In short, on the acidity scale pH levels from 1 to 6.9 are acidic (with pH 7 being neutral) and from 7.1 to 14 are alkaline. Your enamel softens at low pH and demineralizes (loses mineral content) at pH below 5.5 (precisely at pH 5.1-5.5), so you really want to be above these values most of the time. If your pH levels drop below safe levels the last thing you want to be doing at this point is brushing your teeth. Yet that’s exactly what most DIY Tartar Removal tutorials recommend – to soften your enamel first and then brush your teeth. Yes, it will probably remove your tartar but most likely such procedures will also remove a layer of your enamel. Some may say “I do it and my teeth are fine” – well they may look and feel fine since initial changes are impossible to spot, but believe us – once you notice problems it may be too late and you may end up needing dental restorations.
If you ever decide to put something on a tray and brush your teeth afterward please do check its pH level and do not do it if the pH level is below 5.5. For reference below are the pH values of ingredients mentioned in this chapter:
Ascorbic acid – pH level 1.0 – 2.5
Lemon juice – pH level 2.2 – 2.4
White vinegar – pH level 2.4 – 2.6
Apple cider vinegar – pH level 2.4 – 3.0
Orange peel – pH level around 4.2
So please keep in mind that any attempt to dissolve tartar with vinegar may be detrimental to your enamel and once enamel is gone, it’s gone forever! Even though all these ingredients can actually soften tartar you can’t call it a successful treatment when they soften your enamel too!
Removing tartar with activated charcoal
Available in the form of a black toothpaste that is a fine grain powder made from substances like wood and coconut shells oxidized under extreme heat. Charcoal toothpaste is gaining popularity being advertised as a teeth whitening product, and yes – due to its higher abrasiveness it can remove staining and make teeth appear brighter. By using them regularly you can scrub tartar off your teeth but here’s the problem – you should not use them often since they can scrub your enamel as well.
Removing tartar with coconut oil
This one is 100% natural and absolutely safe to use, yet it’s also ineffective in removing tartar. It works as an antibacterial and as mentioned before tartar is mineralized so it won’t be affected by coconut oil in any way. But we encourage you to read about oil pulling, which can certainly help in reducing plaque bacteria levels, which over time will also decrease the amount of tartar buildup.
Removing tartar with hydrogen peroxide (in form of 3% solution)
This ingredient is effective in plaque removal as well as teeth whitening (in higher concentrations), but it’s not effective in tartar removal. By releasing oxygen it reduces anaerobic bacteria count, and by breaking through the slime barrier (which protects a biofilm) it destroys bacteria’s cell walls which is helpful in clearing bacteria located in periodontal pockets thus helping you with gingiva health. Caution: hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer, very potent at killing bacteria, which apparently is also bad news: using it affects negatively your oral microbiome (the good bacteria in your mouth), which may cause negative long-term side effects such as higher cavity risk. It also affects digestion and some studies say it could be cancerogenic, so we do not recommend using it regularly or as a mouthwash ingredient.
Removing tartar with baking soda
Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a pure, natural product that is non-toxic. It is used in some kinds of toothpaste as an additional ingredient but can be purchased separately. It has low abrasiveness so it’s safe to use, and studies show that toothpaste with baking soda is more effective at removing plaque. While it’s not acidic and probably won’t harm your teeth unless overused, baking soda itself is more effective when it comes to whitening teeth or removing stains rather than removing the tartar. So even though it may remove some tartar you’d need to use it frequently and by doing so you risk damaging your teeth irreversibly. If you decided to give it a go try shaking a bit onto your wet toothbrush and then gently scrub your teeth. You can leave it then for up to ten minutes, then rinse with water. Let us know if you had any success in the comments section!
Finally, just for the record – theoretically tartar removal can be performed at home. Yes, you really can loosen tartar on teeth, but you will certainly need not only a dental tool called a dental scaler, but help as well. These devices are not intended to be dental cleanings substitute, but rather to let you level up your oral hygiene between the cleanings.
Please note that if you purchase a manual dental scaler you may also need an experienced person to do the cleaning for you since it requires a certain level of expertise and if used improperly could also result in damaged enamel or gum tissue. Another advantage of not doing it yourself is that another person can see and operate in your mouth a lot better and more precisely than you on your own. See, the main problem is that most of the areas you want to clean are not possible to reach in a self-cleaning process. Also, keep in mind that these devices are not ultrasonic units like the one your dentist uses so they are a lot less powerful and effective. Therefore they are not a replacement for a professional dental cleaning appointment.
Although we are skeptical about at-home teeth cleaners or plaque removers that are wildly advertised on the internet (as they are mostly scams and won’t deliver on their promise) we believe that buying a quality device and using it in a reasonable manner has more benefits than risks. But we recommend these devices only to people who suffer from increased tartar deposits. To the rest of the people, their scheduled cleanings should be more than enough.
The bottom line:
- there are many ways to reduce or prevent plaque and tartar buildup, we have presented some in this article plus there are many more in other articles
- although technically you can remove tartar at home you will quite likely remove your enamel as well which is terrible trade-off (please don’t do it – above all please keep in mind that you have one layer of enamel for life – once it’s gone, it’s gone for good!)
- let’s repeat this one once again: you’d be better off with your tartar on your healthy enamel rather than with no tartar but also less enamel!
- to safely remove tartar visit your dentist for a procedure called ultrasonic scaling, but before you do please read our articles on this procedure as in some cases it may not be the best idea
Do you know any other DIY recommended substances that we have not discussed in this article? Let us know in the comments section. Also if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask them.
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This article is complete and was published on June 2, 2019, and last updated on June 7, 2023.