What is tartar?

Dental plaque, tartar and tooth discoloration

Dental plaque(Plaque): Consists of food residues, saliva, bacteria and their metabolic products; arises with every food and drink. If the plaque is not removed by brushing your teeth after eating, it will cover the teeth as a thin biofilm. If it continues to accumulate there, it gradually turns slightly yellowish-brown. Over time it hardens to Tartar This is nothing more than mineralized, i.e. "petrified" dental plaque.

Dental plaque and tartar lead to Tooth discoloration, but also strongly coloring foods or mouthwashes form visible deposits. Sometimes discoloration indicates the onset of tooth decay.

Leading complaints

  • Discoloration on the teeth
  • Hard yellowish-white to brownish deposits above the gum line.

When to the doctor

At least once, better twice a year - regardless of whether there are any complaints.

The illness

If plaque is on the teeth for a long time, minerals and bacteria from the saliva accumulate. The coating becomes firmer and later hard - the result is tartar. It accumulates especially near the salivary glands on the inside of the lower incisors or on the outside of the upper molars.

Some people tend to have thick plaque and tartar from infancy, like this five-year-old (left). Only particularly intensive oral hygiene and regular visits to a carefully working dentist can help to get rid of the plaque at least every 6 months (right).

Bacteria living in dental plaque process the food residues and excrete metabolic products that cause many diseases of the oral cavity and teeth, e.g. B. gingivitis, periodontal disease and tooth decay.

Those who tend to have plaque on their teeth only have one chance to avoid constant visits to the dentist: The build-up of plaque must be prevented after every meal. This means that teeth must be carefully brushed during the day at work or at school - ideally with an electric brush. A break of 4 or 6 hours between a meal and brushing your teeth is enough for tartar to form within a few weeks. Sticky foods such as honey, chocolate snacks or bananas also accelerate plaque formation.

That's what the doctor does

The dentist recognizes tartar immediately. The soft plaque, on the other hand, can be colored and thus made visible; the doctor or the prophylaxis assistant also check how good the patient's cleaning technique is.

The dentist removes the tartar mechanically with the help of small hooks (scaler) or water-cooled ultrasonic instruments. He then polishes the teeth on request and removes discoloration on the tooth surfaces - however, this is not covered by the health insurance.

After the tartar removal, the teeth feel rough. This is because the protective natural mucus layer of the teeth was removed, but it builds up again within 1–2 hours.

Your pharmacy recommends

If you follow the recommendations on oral hygiene, you have already done everything necessary. For some people, plaque and discoloration are particularly easy to form; they can only be helped by particularly intensive oral hygiene.

You can prevent renewed discolouration by avoiding or at least restricting consumption of food and luxury goods such as coffee, black tea, red wine or tobacco that cause stains.

If tartar has already formed, you can no longer remove it yourself without injuring the teeth; this can only be done with dental instruments. If you attempt to remove it yourself, you will only injure the gums!
The health insurances cover the costs of one tartar removal per year, but at least two would make medical sense, for example as part of a professional tooth cleaning.


Dr. med. dent. Gisbert Hennessen; Thilo Machotta; Dr. med. Arne Schäffler in: Gesundheit heute, edited by Dr. med. Arne Schäffler. Trias, Stuttgart, 3rd edition (2014). Revision and update: Dr. med. Sonja Kempinski | last changed on at 14:48

Important note: This article has been written according to scientific standards and has been checked by medical professionals. The information communicated in this article can in no way replace professional advice in your pharmacy. The content cannot and must not be used to make independent diagnoses or to start therapy.