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32 Home Remedies for Tartar and Plaque

Keep your smile shiny and bright by getting a handle on tartar and plaque.

We all know that we should rid our teeth of tartar and plaque using either conventional methods or home remedies, but exactly what roles do tartar and plaque play in our oral health?

For starters, let's define the two players. Plaque, which is by far the most villainous, is a soft, sticky, nearly invisible film of bacteria that accumulates on teeth and dental restorations (fillings, crowns, and dentures, for example) and on the gums and the tongue. Some of the bacteria in plaque cause tooth decay, and some are responsible for periodontal, or gum, disease. Plaque is always with us. A newborn baby's mouth is sterile, but only for the first ten hours or so of life.

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Tartar is a calcified material that often contains bacterial debris and sometimes plaque. It's a white, chalky substance. Although tartar (also called calculus) can make it easier for plaque to stick around, the stuff is generally considered to be primarily a cosmetic problem.

Plaque is the culprit in cavities and gum disease. The longer plaque hangs around in your mouth, the more trouble it causes. As certain bacteria in plaque feed off fermentable carbohydrates (which include sugars, even those in fruit and milk, and starchy foods such as breads, pastas, and crackers), they produce an acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities.

Other bacteria infect the gums, producing the first symptoms of gum disease, such as redness, inflammation, and bleeding. If left untreated, gum disease may progress to the point that the infection literally destroys the bone that holds the teeth roots in place. That's why gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss among adults over age 35.

Both plaque and tartar can form above and below the gum line. It takes a dentist or dental hygienist to remove tartar from anywhere in the mouth and to remove plaque from below the gum line. And regular, professional cleanings -- as often as your dentist recommends -- will help make your dental care at home more effective.

It's also important to have the condition of your gums checked through a periodontal probing during your checkups. Make dental checkups and cleanings part of your annual health-care routine, along with blood-pressure readings and cancer screenings.

On average, 65 percent of all Americans visit their dentist regularly. So what's the deal? Why the toothache? It could be a result of:

  • Poor food choices
  • Bacteria
  • Bad brushing technique
  • Not enough flossing
  • Heredity
  • Lack of professional care

Take your pick; the list is long. But you can keep plaque under control and prevent it from destroying your smile, but it takes a little time and effort. Since the alternative is painful gum disease and tooth loss, it's worth it. See the next section to find out what you can do.

For more information on tartar and plaque and how to combat them, try the following links:

  • Visit our Home Remedies page to learn about all of our home rememdies and the conditions they treat.
  • If you are suffering from painful or even bleeding gums, there are some herbs that may be in your garden right now that can alleviate or eliminate these problems. Learn how in Herbal Remedies for Dental Problems.
  • For an in-depth explanation of dental disease, go to our How Dental Disease Works page.
  • Find out how regular cleaning prevents problems by understanding how oral hygiene works.
  • Learn effective home remedies that help you cope with tooth pain naturally.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

2007, Publications International, Ltd. How often you brush doesn't mean as much as how you brush. Do it the right way to defend yourself against tartar and plaque buildup.

Dental hygiene is very important -- especially if you want to keep your teeth healthy and clean. The following tips will help you to keep tartar and plaque at bay.

Brush. Focus on quality, not quantity. You may brush after every meal, snack, or sip of soda, but if your technique is lousy, you won't be doing your teeth much good.

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The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the following method:

  1. Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle against the gum line. Point the brush upward, or toward your nose, when you're cleaning the upper teeth; downward, or toward your chin, when you're doing the lower teeth. Working the bristles at this angle will ensure that you clean the gum line, which too many brushers miss.
  2. Use a short (about the width of half a tooth) back-and-forth motion to clean the outer surfaces of your teeth. Focus on just one or two teeth at a time. And be gentle; you're not scrubbing the floor or the bathtub. Brushing too hard can damage the gums and the teeth.
  3. Use this same stroke on the inside surfaces of all the teeth, except the front ones. Remember to keep the brush angled (at 45 degrees) toward the gum line.
  4. Scrub the chewing surfaces of your back teeth with the brush held flat in the same back-and-forth motion.
  5. Tilt the brush vertically, and use the front (or top) part of the brush in short up-and-down strokes to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, both top and bottom.
  6. Don't forget to brush your tongue. It can harbor disease-causing plaque, too.

Use the right tools. The ADA recommends a soft nylon brush with rounded-end, polished bristles. Hard bristles (as well as brushing too hard) can wear away the enamel that protects your teeth and can form grooves in the teeth. What's more, abrasive bristles can also damage tender gums, causing them to recede, or pull away, from the teeth.

Get a brush with a head that's small enough to reach all of your teeth, especially those in the back. Some adults may actually prefer using a child-sized brush. Don't be stingy with toothbrushes, either -- replace your brush every three months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed, splayed, or worn.

Don't worry about going hi-tech. An old-fashioned manual toothbrush can clean teeth just as effectively as any electric product. But if your manual dexterity's not up to par or you think having a teeth-cleaning toy will make you brush longer and more often, an electric brush may be a good idea.

Use a fluoridated toothpaste. Choose a product with the ADA's seal of acceptance. What's so wonderful about fluoride? It combines with the minerals in saliva to "remineralize," or strengthen, the teeth, preventing cavities in both children and adults. You may think you don't get cavities anymore, but as you get older, your gums recede, exposing the roots of teeth, which lack the protective coating of enamel and are prone to a type of decay known as root caries.

Try a tartar-control toothpaste. If you tend to develop a lot of tartar, using such a product can help. While these toothpastes don't eliminate tartar altogether, studies show that they can reduce tartar deposits by 30 to 40 percent. Chemicals such as pyrophosphate in tartar-control pastes interfere with the deposits of calcium salt.

Floss. Too many people think of flossing simply as a way to dislodge the roast beef or popcorn kernels stuck between their teeth. But regular (once a day, at the very least) use of dental floss is essential for cleaning between teeth and under the gums and warding off both cavities and gum disease. Here's how to floss correctly:

  1. Start with 18 to 24 inches of floss, and wind most of it around the middle or index finger on one hand (whichever finger is the most comfortable for you).
  2. Wrap the rest of the floss around the same finger on the other hand. Think of this other finger as the take-up spool for the used floss. Don't scrimp. Use a clean section of floss as you work between each tooth. Otherwise, you're just moving bacteria from one tooth to another.
  3. Hold the floss tightly with your thumbs and forefingers, leaving about an inch of floss between them. The floss should be taut.
  4. Use a gentle "sawing" motion as you pull the floss between the teeth. Be careful not to snap it into the tender gum tissue.
  5. When you've reached the gum line, curve the floss into a "C" shape to fit snugly around the tooth, and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth gently.
  6. Bring the floss out from the gum and scrape the side of the tooth, following its contour from bottom to top to remove as much plaque as possible. After you pull it out, use a clean section of floss to clean the tooth on the other side of that space.
  7. Be sure to clean the back side of the last tooth on each side, both top and bottom.

Relax about wax. Don't worry about choosing between waxed or unwaxed floss. Pick what's comfortable. Flavored flosses are fine, too, especially if you find yourself using them more frequently. If your fingers are too awkward, you suffer from arthritis, or you have a lot of bridgework, floss threaders and/or any of the various floss holders may help; they're available at drugstores.

2007, Publications International, Ltd.Don't forget about cleaning between your teeth. Floss at least once a day to help prevent decay.

Know that there's no substitute for flossing. Flossing is the best way to clean between your teeth. No other method works nearly as well. But if you absolutely, positively refuse to floss, ask your dentist or hygienist about alternatives.

Some dentists recommend soft wooden interproximal cleaners, like Stim-u-Dents (the rubber tips on some toothbrushes). Interproximal brushes, which look like tiny bottle brushes, work, too, but won't always fit in tight spaces between teeth. Oral irrigators can help hose down the nooks and crannies in your teeth, too, but these products are not a replacement for flossing. A word of caution: Don't use Stim-u-Dents or oral irrigators until after you've brushed and flossed because of the danger of pushing debris or plaque deeper into a pocket.

Test yourself. Disclosing tablets or solution, available at drugstores, can reveal the plaque that's left after you've brushed and flossed. At first, you may be shocked by how much plaque you've been missing, but don't get discouraged. While it's impossible to remove every bit of this bacterial nuisance, using these tablets can show where you're not cleaning thoroughly and help you improve your brushing and flossing skills.

Wet your whistle. Saliva naturally cleanses the mouth and helps fight bacteria. But dry mouth is a side effect of some 300 to 400 different medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and drugs used to treat high blood pressure and Parkinson's disease. A disease called Sjogren's syndrome, which can accompany some rheumatoid conditions, also slows down the flow of saliva (and causes dry eyes, too). If you've had radiation therapy to the head and neck for cancer, your saliva glands may have been damaged.

You can fight dry mouth with sugarless gum or candy or with artificial saliva, available over the counter. It's also wise to take frequent sips of water. And because dry mouth tends to worsen during sleep, try coating your lips, mouth, and tongue with mineral oil (then spit it out) before getting into bed (but after brushing and flossing).

Don't rely on "miracle" rinses. The commercials on television look so appealing: A swig of this product, a few swishes in the mouth, and, almost like magic, all that nasty plaque is gone. If only it were that simple. You can't rinse away plaque and tartar.

Only two products have the acceptance of the ADA's Council on Dental Therapeutics for reducing plaque: Peridex, available by prescription only, contains 0.12 percent chlorhexidine, a powerful germ-fighter, and over-the-counter Listerine, which relies on a combination of oils, including menthol, eucalyptol, and thymol, along with alcohol. However, even if you add one of these rinses to your daily oral health-care regimen, you still need to brush and floss.

Everything you put in your mouth affects the health of your teeth, including the food you eat. In the final section, we'll discuss foods that promote proper oral hygiene and offer tips on using common household items to prevent tartar and plaque build-up.For more information on tartar and plaque and how to combat them, try the following links:

  • Visit our Home Remedies page to learn about all of our home rememdies and the conditions they treat.
  • If you are suffering from painful or even bleeding gums, there are some herbs that may be in your garden right now that can alleviate or eliminate these problems. Learn how in Herbal Remedies for Dental Problems.
  • For an in-depth explanation of dental disease, go to our How Dental Disease Works page.
  • Find out how regular cleaning prevents problems by understanding how oral hygiene works.
  • Learn effective home remedies that help you cope with tooth pain naturally.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Strawberry juice whitens teeth naturally.

Now that you've got a clear understanding of what's involved in proper oral hygiene, you're on the path to healthy teeth and gums. Following are some helpful home remedies for tartar and plaque that use foods and condiments you'll find in the kitchen.

Home Remedies from the Cupboard

Coconut oil. Massage this into sore gums for relief.

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Salsa. The spicier, the better. Foods that make your mouth water actually fight dental decay. They stimulate the salivary glands, and all the extra saliva cleans your teeth and gums. And if that salsa is too hot, the water you'll drink to cool the burn will clean your mouth, too.

Salt. Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water, and rinse your mouth with it to help treat bleeding gums, canker sores, and toothache. Salt makes a great whitening toothpaste, too. Pulverize salt in a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder, or spread some on a cutting board and roll it with a pastry rolling pin to crush it into a fine sand-like texture. Mix 1 part crushed salt with 2 parts baking soda, then dip a dampened toothbrush into the mixture and brush your teeth. Keep the powder in an airtight container in your bathroom. This mixture also helps remove plaque.

Sesame oil. Gargling with warm sesame oil is an Ayurvedic treatment--the holistic system from India--for gum disease. Take a mouthful and swish it around twice a day, then rinse. It's also said that this simple gargle can reduce cheek wrinkles. What a great bonus!

Vinegar. Here's an easy (although temporary) toothache fix. Try rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 4 ounces warm water, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt.

Home Remedies from the Drawer

Spoon. Brushing or scraping your tongue is an important part of your oral hygiene routine. It rids your mouth of bacteria and food particles, and it stimulates your salivary glands to wake up and get to work. Use a spoon to scrape from the back of the tongue to the front, repeating until you've covered the entire area.

Home Remedies from the Freezer

Ice. That's the last thing you want to stick on an aching tooth, isn't it? Well, don't stick it on your tooth; use it on your hand. Rub an ice cube in the soft spot between your thumb and first finger. This acupressure treatment may stop tooth pain. If your jaw is really throbbing and swollen, though, an ice pack to the face for about ten minutes every hour will help relieve both the pain and the swelling. Just be careful, as rapid cooling can increase pain. If that doesn't work, try moist heat.

Home Remedies from the Refrigerator

Apples. Munching on a raw apple an hour after a meal cleans the teeth and helps heal the gums.

Cheese. You know that nasty bacteria that's just waiting to take a whack at your tooth enamel? Cheese is their sworn enemy. First, it stimulates the salivary glands to clean the mouth. According to studies, just a few ounces of hard cheese eaten after a meal may protect against decay. There's also evidence to suggest that fatty acids in cheese may have antibacterial properties. And finally, cheese proteins may actually coat and protect tooth enamel. So, here's another reason to "say cheese"!

Figs. To "strengthen" your teeth, eat 4 figs at one time, once a day. Chew well and slowly. This stimulates the saliva flow and cleanses the mouth.

Lemon juice. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a cupful of water and drink to staunch bleeding gums and gingivitis. Don't take lemon juice full strength, as it can erode tooth enamel.

Melon. Any melon will do. One hour after eating, chew some melon slowly. It will help stop gums from bleeding.

Milk. Milk is a good source of calcium, an essential mineral for strong teeth and bones. Drinking a glass of "moo juice" can help promote dental health. (Note: Milk is mildly acidic, so don't put your baby to bed with a bottle; it may cause severe decay.) While you're in the fridge, check for these other calcium-packed foods: yogurt, broccoli, Swiss chard, and salmon.

Strawberries. They're a wonderful tooth whitener. Rub the juice on the teeth and leave for five minutes. Then rinse off with warm water that has a pinch of baking soda dissolved in it.

Tea bag. Black tea contains fluoride that can suppress the growth of bacteria that cause decay and dental plaque, the sticky white film that forms on your teeth. (When it hardens, it's called tartar.) Drop a tea bag of black tea into a cup of hot water, and let it brew for six minutes. This will allow the maximum amount of fluoride to escape into the water. Squeeze the tea bag into the water before discarding it to get that last little bit of fluoride. Use the tea as a rinse to prevent plaque buildup after you eat sweets.

Watercress. Chew fresh watercress several times a day to treat sore or bleeding gums.

Home Remedies from the Spice Rack

Allspice. It helps relieve toothache. Wet your finger and dip it into the spice, then rub it along the gum line near the aching tooth. You can also steep some in a glass of warm water, then rinse your mouth with it. Not only does this rinse relieve pain, it also freshens your breath.

Cloves. Cloves contain eugenol, a chemical with natural antiseptic and anesthetic properties. That explains why ground cloves have been used to relieve toothaches for thousands of years. Moisten 1 teaspoon powdered cloves in olive oil and pack it into an aching cavity. Dentists still use a mixture of eugenol and zinc oxide before applying amalgam when filling teeth.

Coriander. This spice, as well as thyme and green tea, has antibacterial properties. Brew a tea from your choice of the three and use as a mouth rinse after meals.

Sage. Add 2 teaspoons sage to 2 cups water, then boil. Cool for 15 minutes, then swish in your mouth for several minutes. Sage has an antibacterial property that may reduce decay.

Sesame seeds. Chew a handful slowly but don't swallow. Brush your teeth with a dry toothbrush, using the chewed seeds as you would a toothpaste. They will both clean and polish.

Put on a happy smile -- and keep that smile happy -- by putting the home remedies outlined in this article to good use.

For more information on tartar and plaque and how to combat them, try the following links:

  • Visit our Home Remedies page to learn about all of our home rememdies and the conditions they treat.
  • If you are suffering from painful or even bleeding gums, there are some herbs that may be in your garden right now that can alleviate or eliminate these problems. Learn how in Herbal Remedies for Dental Problems.
  • For an in-depth explanation of dental disease, go to our How Dental Disease Works page.
  • Find out how regular cleaning prevents problems by understanding how oral hygiene works.
  • Learn effective home remedies that help you cope with tooth pain naturally.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.

Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer GuideBoston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. (McGraw-Hill, 2004), and has written for publications including the

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at PennsylvaniaState University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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