Black Tartar on Teeth: Causes and Treatment

Mar 18, 2023 | Oral Hygiene, Teeth Cleaning

Black Tartar on Teeth: Causes and Treatment

Have you noticed a black substance around the base of your teeth that will not go away despite brushing and flossing? Chances are this substance is black tartar, or calculus, and can be an early sign of gum disease or other more serious dental concerns. While a thorough dental cleaning, often including root planing and scaling, can remove this tartar buildup, practicing a good oral hygiene routine can help prevent this tartar buildup and promote good oral health.

Here we take a closer look at what black tartar really is, how it is removed, and what you can do to prevent this buildup in the future.

Key Takeaways

  • Bacteria in the mouth are normal, but this bacterium causes a soft, sticky film known as plaque to develop on the surface of your teeth. If not removed by a good oral hygiene routine, this plaque hardens into calculus or tartar.
  • While calculus is naturally clear in color, certain factors can contribute to discoloration and the black appearance you see on your teeth.
  • When tartar develops at or below the gum line, it can lead to gum disease.

What is black tartar on teeth?

Tartar is what builds up when plaque on the surface of the teeth is left untreated through proper brushing and flossing. When plaque is allowed to build up on the surface of the teeth, it hardens and becomes tartar.

What produces tartar?

The combination of saliva, food particles, bacteria, and bacterial acids present in the mouth generates a sticky substance known as plaque that covers the surface of the teeth. When you brush your teeth, you are working to remove this plaque. Unfortunately, a poor oral hygiene routine can miss areas of plaque, allowing it to solidify into calculus or tartar. As this tartar interacts with foods and beverages, it can become discolored, giving it a black appearance, especially when it is along the gumline.


The buildup of tartar on the teeth allows bacteria to thrive and eat away at the enamel of your teeth. When tartar builds up along the gumline, it allows bacteria to get into the gumline and cause inflammation. As this continues, the bacteria begin attacking the bone and ligaments surrounding your teeth and keeping them in place. If left untreated, this contributes to gingivitis, advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, and can lead to tooth loss.

Causes of black tartar

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of plaque and tartar buildup. When plaque is left untreated, it hardens and turns into tartar. Naturally, plaque is a colorless substance. However, as it hardens or calcifies, it develops a darker appearance. This change in color can occur from external or internal causes.

External causes

External factors that can cause tarter discoloration and a black appearance can include: 

    • Regular consumption of dark foods and drinks, such as berries, coffee, and wine
    • Certain medications, such as antibiotics or liquid iron supplements
    • The presence of fillings or dental crowns that have silver sulfate
    • Smoking

Internal causes

Internal factors that affect tarter discoloration are often the result of the presence of tartar in the mouth. This may begin as small dark spots and eventually spread to cover the surface of the tooth. Common internal causes can include: 

    • The presence of cavities or tooth decay
    • A pulp infection within the tooth
    • Tooth death that occurs due to internal infection and damage
    • Damaged tooth enamel

Symptoms of black tartar

Aside from the presence of noticeable blackish spots on the teeth or along the gumline, black tartar can cause additional symptoms. These can include: 

    • Bad breath
    • Loose teeth
    • Red and swollen gums
    • Bleeding gums
    • Permanent surface staining on the surface of the teeth

Can you get rid of black tartar on your teeth?

Once black tartar develops, the only way to remove it from the surface of your teeth is through professional dental cleaning. The dentist or dental hygienist uses a process known as scaling and root planing to scrape and remove the tartar buildup on the surface of your teeth. They will address areas above and underneath the gum line to help reverse gum disease and address potential dental concerns.

Mouthwash and other oral hygiene products

Ways to prevent black tartar

The good news is, there are things you can do to help prevent the buildup of tartar on your teeth. A quality oral hygiene routine can help remove plaque as it forms, reducing the risk of it hardening into tartar. Your oral hygiene routine should include the following:


    • Brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes (after every meal if you have a history of plaque buildup).
    • Use tartar control toothpaste with fluoride, as well as a fluoride mouthwash.
    • Floss at least once a day with traditional floss or a water flosser to remove any trapped food and bacteria between the teeth.
    • Visit your dentist for routine dental checkups at least twice a year or more often as recommended.
    • Attend regular dental cleanings.
    • Stop smoking or using other tobacco products.

You can prevent tartar buildup

Plaque and tartar are normal things that develop in the mouth. However, there are things that you can do to help reduce this buildup and keep your teeth and gums healthy. If you see signs of tartar buildup, despite following a good oral hygiene routine, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to remove the tartar and reduce the risk of tooth damage and gum disease.

Helping you keep your smile tartar-free

At Soundview Family Dental, we understand how plaque and tartar can damage your teeth and gums and we work with you to develop a quality dental hygiene routine to keep your teeth tartar-free and healthy. To learn more about dental cleanings and addressing tartar buildup, book an appointment today.

Eric Kitts, DDS

Eric Kitts, DDS

Owner @ Soundview Family Dental

Born in Seattle and raised in Puyallup, Dr. Eric Kitts received his undergraduate degree from Washington State University and his DDS from the University of Washington School of Dentistry. Dr. Kitts began practicing dentistry in 2000, at his office in Richmond Beach. In 2011, Dr. Kitts built a brand-new, state-of-the-art dental facility located in the heart of downtown Edmonds.

Book with us today!

Are you unhappy with the appearance of your teeth and refuse to show the world your beautiful smile? Has discomfort at the dentist kept you from receiving dental work that will give you a reason to smile again?

At Soundview Family Dental in Edmonds, WA, we understand that not everyone likes the dentist. Our team of caring professionals works with you to ensure that you feel comfortable from the moment you walk through the door. Specializing in cosmetic and restorative dentistry, Dr. Kitts and his team work hard to preserve your natural teeth and give you back a smile you can be proud of.

Contact today to schedule an appointment and let our team deliver a beautiful, natural-looking smile you can be proud to show off.

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