What is Tartar?

Tartar is formed from the dead bacteria in plaque mixed with free calcium from your saliva that forms calcium phosphate salt. Teeth are made of calcium phosphate so the tartar (a salt) is ionically attracted to tooth enamel (sort of an electrostatic attraction). The issue with tartar is that it is both rough and porous, providing a perfect structure for sticky plaque to adhere to, die and subsequently build more tartar. It also provides a secure habit for bad bacteria to colonize and thrive in. Tartar that is not removed will expand and grow down into the gum line shielding and protecting the bad bacteria from even the most potent of germ killing mouth wash such as prescription Peridex (chlorhexidine).

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What is a good and bad bacteria?

Microbes (bacteria) represent a very basic yet diverse form of life that often make their greatest contribution or impact on their environment through the byproducts they produce. Some bacteria thrive in an oxygen rich environment (aerobic bacteria) while other strains survive in an environment with no oxygen and are called anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria have many uses in industry ranging from the manufacture of citric acid to smoothing out the taste of red wine. However before we continue with good versus bad bacteria, we need to clarify how bacteria are classified. Under a microscope bacteria look pretty much the same with the exception of some basic shapes; rods, spirals commas, or corkscrew. Thanks to a Dutch scientist Hans Gram, we can now better identify a particular bacterium. Dr Gram discovered that different bacteria stain differently when subjected to a process that involves crystal violet color stain. This became known as Gram staining. To this day bacterium are classified as “Gram Negative” for bacteria that did not absorb the violet stain or “Gram Positive” for those that did absorb the stain. Bacteria do not technically have skin rather they are surrounded by a somewhat permeable cytoplasm…essentially molecules in close formation. This outer wall permeability allows stain to be absorbed readily. The saliva in our mouth contains over 300 strains of bacteria of which the vast majority are Gram positive that benefit us by helping our immune system deal with opportunistic bacteria and viruses.

It is the Gram negative bacteria that we are most concerned about. Gram negative bacteria have an additional outer membrane that resists Gram staining. This outer membrane adds a layer of protection to help it survive in harsh conditions. As if that were not enough Gram negative bacteria also produce a chemical on the outer membrane called LPS that also adds an additional level of protection. LPS is also a toxin to humans and causes inflammation and other issues when introduced into the blood stream. Gram negative bacteria are the bad bacteria and are very tough hombres that are hard to kill…they are the Terminators of the oral bacteria world and are the main players in periodontal disease and tooth loss. On top of that they are an inefficient processor of sugar as the multiply and grow creating tremendous waste products such as Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSC’s) that cause bad breath.