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Black Tartar On Teeth - What On Earth Is This?

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Well, plaque and tartar will naturally build up on teeth over time but what is this black stuff that you see? Is that normal or should you be concerned?

black tartar around retainers
black tartar around retainers

Table of Contents

What causes black tartar?

The primary cause for tartar is due to inadequate oral hygiene. Your regime may not be sufficient or perhaps you've simply not had the time to go see your dentist. We will review how plaque progresses into this unsightly phenomenon.

  • Your teeth are normally a white to yellowish color.

  • Over the course of a day, a thin yellow film will build up over your teeth called plaque. Plaque is very soft and easily removed with a soft gentle brushing motion.

  • If you do not remove it before going to bed, it will turn hard and we call that tartar. It is basically calcified plaque. At this stage, regardless of how hard you brush, you will not be able to remove it at home.

  • If you do not go to your 6 month teeth cleaning, all of that calculus build up will start to mature and pick up staining. This is what you know as black tartar.

This stuff is extra calcified and super hard. In fact, it may give your dentist a hard time in getting it off your teeth. You can also call it very mature plaque that has incorporated a non cosmetic appearance for your teeth.

black tartar on lower teeth
black tartar on lower teeth

Basically it all starts with the bacteria in your mouth, which eats all of the sugar and carbohydrates that you feed it. These bacteria will aggregate together to form plaque and eventually grown into tartar. It forms this because the black tartar acts as like a safe house or nuclear bomb shelter that protects the bacteria from external forces such as your floss and tooth brushing. This lets it stay on your teeth permanently!

Your oral hygiene is the main cause but there are a couple of other factors which contribute to the development of it and make the color even darker:

  • Smoking, especially heavy smokers.

  • A diet that is rich in sugar or carbohydrates.

  • Heavy coffee, tea, and wine drinker.

Signs and symptoms of black tartar

  • Most obvious is the physical appearance of it, which is very dark or black on the surface of your teeth. Typically it will present as a black line along your gum line.

  • Often times, these teeth will feel loose as well.

  • Very hard build up that can't be removed by brushing or flossing.

  • Bad breath because it acts as a breeding ground for more bacteria.

  • Bleeding gums that will be red and swollen.

black tartar

Overall, these symptoms indicate that you most likely have some form of gum disease.

  • Gingivitis. Inflammation of the gums, which is the early stage of periodontal disease.

  • Periodontitis. Inflammation of the bone and surrounding structures of the tooth, this is advanced gum disease.

If you are having these symptoms, it is a sign that you should go in for your dental check up.

How to remove black tartar

The bad news is that there is no home remedy for this. You will not be able to remove black tartar at home but the good news is that your dentist can do it for you.

Treatment for it will be a dental cleaning, where the hygienist will clean your teeth with an ultrasonic scaler. This will be sufficient for a small amount of build up but if you have very heavy tartar build up, you may require a different treatment.

For severe black tartar removal, you will need a deep teeth cleaning:

  • This is what we call scaling and root planing.

  • For this procedure you will need to be numb for it so it involves numbing gel and a dental numbing shot with Lidocaine.

  • Once you are adequately anesthetized, your hygienist can go deeper underneath your gums to clean everything out.

  • All of the calculus build up above the gum line as well as tartar below the gum line will be removed.

  • This treatment is usually completed in two visits, half of the mouth the first visit and the second half the next visit. This is for your own comfort because we do not want you to be numb the entire mouth.

Preventing black tartar

You know what they say, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!" This describes how to prevent it from ever happening again. There is a good chance that you may need a deep cleaning if your plaque progresses to the point where it turns black.

The scaling and root planing is a lot more involved than a regular teeth cleaning. If you just simply don't let it get to that point, you can avoid the whole thing!

This is what you should do to prevent it from happening:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day for a minimum of two minutes.

  • Use a fluoride toothpaste or a nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste. These toothpastes will usually have a tartar control effect to them as well.

  • Floss before you go to bed!

  • Use a mouthwash like Listerine or even a mouth rinse like coconut oil pulling.

  • Avoid tartar inducing foods like carbohydrates.

  • Avoid staining foods so that it doesn't turn black like tea, coffee, or wine.

Last but not least, don't forget to go to your biannual dental check ups. Get your teeth cleaned twice a year will definitely keep this unaesthetic condition away!


To sum it up, it is caused by bacteria that form plaque, which turns into tartar but after it matures, it will pick up staining and turn into black tartar. The treatment for it would be a deep teeth cleaning with your dentist! We've also seen other colored plaque as well such as orange plaque.



David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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