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Are You Accidentally Trying To Whiten Your Tartar?

You might have bought an over-the-counter teeth whitening product and carefully read all the instructions before applying the whitening agent to your teeth. And yet you might not technically be whitening your teeth. Without knowing it, you're in fact attempting to whiten the tartar that covers your teeth, and this isn't going to have the desired effect. Any actual whitening results will most likely be inconsistent, and for some people, this patchy appearance will be quite obvious. How can you reverse this teeth-whitening failure?

A Biofilm of Oral Bacteria

Many people take it for granted that the surfaces of their teeth are in fact their teeth. Plaque can easily form on dental enamel. It's actually a biofilm of oral bacteria that has converged on your teeth. Plaque is sticky and firmly attaches itself to a tooth—although it can still be removed at home. The bacteria in plaque also erodes the tooth enamel beneath it. If it's not promptly brushed away, it calcifies (hardens) and becomes calcified plaque—which is best known as tartar.

Tartar and Teeth Whitening

Tartar has a different composition to the highly-mineralized makeup of your natural dental enamel. It's porous and is susceptible to staining. It could have been the discoloration effect of tartar that made you want to whiten your teeth. Tartar won't react to the bleaching agent (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) in the whitening product. These bleaching agents interact with enamel and even penetrate its surface. Similar to household bleach, whitening gels contain active oxygen molecules which target and neutralize discoloration on suitable surfaces. Tartar (which is made up of bacteria) will not be whitened.

Tartar Coverage

You're unlikely to have total tartar coverage on any given tooth. Enamel will be whitened, but tartar won't be. This leads to teeth with a patchy appearance. You can't correct this error yourself and will need to contact a cosmetic dentistry clinic. The first step will be to professionally clean your teeth.

Uniform Appearance

A dentist will use a scaler to break up tartar on your teeth. They'll also be polished. With the discolored tartar (along with some surface stains) now removed, your teeth may already look whiter. But your treatment hasn't finished. Your dentist will now professionally whiten your teeth to create a uniform appearance. 

You can whiten teeth, but you can't whiten tartar—and if you've already inadvertently tried, you'll need some help from a cosmetic dentist. For more information on cosmetic dentistry, contact a professional near you.