This week, let’s take a closer look at how plaque turns into tartar. Between your teeth and gums is a small valley known as the sulcus. When you go to the dentist, your dental hygienist lays you back and begins taking measurements with an instrument known as a periodontal probe to see how deep the sulcus is around each tooth. The hygienist measures 6 points around each tooth to get the most accurate assessment of the health of your gums. A healthy sulcus should measure 3 mm or less, and there should be no bleeding. So, when you hear the hygienist calling out all those numbers, you want the numbers to be ones, twos and threes.
Anything deeper than 3 mm is called a pocket. Pockets are bad. The deeper the pocket; the more severe the problem is. Pockets that measure 4 and 5 mm deep are considered shallow pockets. Whereas pockets measuring 6 mm and above are considered deep pockets.
Your tooth consists of a crown and root. Where the crown and root meet is called the neck of the tooth. In a healthy mouth, the neck of the tooth is typically below the gum line, and sometimes it’s just beyond the reach of your toothbrush bristles and dental floss. Unfortunately, the bristles of your toothbrush and dental floss can only reach about 1 to 2mm below the gum line. If you have a healthy 3mm sulcus, that means you only remove about 33 to 67% of the plaque when you brush and floss. Conversely, you’re missing 33 to 67% of the plaque beneath your gum line. If you have a 5mm pocket, your floss and the bristles of your toothbrush miss 60 to 80% of the plaque beneath your gum line!
Within 12-72 hours of plaque forming below the gum line, tartar begins to form at the neck of the tooth. Within a week to two weeks, this plaque is fully hardened. As it hardens, the tartar begins to release toxins and poisons into the sulcus that irritate the gums. The gums become swollen and they begin to bleed. This is known as gingivitis. It is the first stage of this condition, and it is the only stage that is 100% reversible, because at this point… there has been no bone loss. Signs of gingivitis are red, puffy, swollen gums that bleed when you brush or floss.
Keep this in mind… If you ignore gingivitis, it will never get better on its own. In fact, it will only get worse! The tartar will begin to progress down the root of tooth. As it does so, it is now releasing its toxins and poisons into the bone. The gums will pull away from the roots of the teeth as the pockets deepen, and you will experience bone loss. This condition is known as periodontitis.