Tartar Broke Off While Flossing?

Published on: March 20, 2023
An Afro-American woman flossing her teeth.

In most cases, the hard tartar on teeth can only be removed by a dental professional. Brushing, string flossing or water flossing usually will not budge calculus on teeth, but in the right circumstance, it may happen. If tartar broke off while flossing, here is what it means and what you should do next.

What Is Tartar?

Tartar is a yellowish, extremely hard substance that attaches to the teeth. When plaque is not removed completely, it can mix with minerals in saliva. Over time, it calcifies and bonds to the teeth in the form of tartar. This substance gives bacteria places to hide in the calculus bridges on the teeth.

If you have tartar break off while flossing, it will look like a small chunk of yellowish tooth. Depending on where it was located, you may be able to see the rest of the calculus bridge with a missing piece, looking like a slightly chipped tooth. Make sure that it is tartar and not a tooth or filling.

Tartar is not a good sign when it comes to oral health. Ideally, daily oral hygiene and routine dental cleanings by a hygienist will remove plaque before it becomes tartar. If tartar broke off while flossing, it is good that it is gone, but this is a sign it is time to visit your dentist for a cleaning and checkup.

Plaque, tartar and bacteria all contribute to periodontal disease. This is a deep infection of the gum tissue that can eventually result in deterioration of the gums, bone and teeth. When tartar is present, it is a sign of the beginning stages of potential gum disease.

Why Did Tartar Come Off While Flossing?

String flossing is one of the only ways that tartar could possibly be removed without professional dental instruments. Tartar is like cement on your teeth and rarely can be pried off the tooth unless you have the right tools. However, there is a chance it can be flossed off when it is not mature.

There is a period of time when tartar is maturing but not completely hardened or calcified. Plaque is soft and sticky, but it begins to harden into tartar in about two days if left on teeth. The complete calcifying process takes about 10 days – it is during this time that tartar could be removed with flossing.

During the maturing phase of plaque into tartar, it may still be semi-soft and not completely connected to the tooth. String floss can hook under the tartar bridge and with force, snap a piece loose. If tartar is able to be removed easily, this is a good time to schedule a dental cleaning.

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What To Do After Tartar Broke Off While Flossing

If you have a slightly chipped tooth due to a piece of tartar breaking off while flossing, call your dental office. It is likely that you have maturing tartar that can be removed before it becomes a calculus bridge that requires more intensive or deeper cleaning to scrape off the teeth.

A routine dental cleaning can remove tartar above the gum line. It can be scraped off with metal instruments carefully by a dental hygienist. However, if it grows down below the gum line, a deeper cleaning may be needed, which can require numbing the gums.

Once tartar is below the gumline, you may have gingivitis or early stages of gum disease. Tartar irritates the gum tissue due to the bacteria that hide in the calculus bridge. Tartar contributes to periodontal disease, which can jeopardize your oral and overall health.

Tartar Checkup and Cleaning

If you think tartar broke off while flossing, call your dental office. You may need a checkup to ensure that it was tartar and not a piece of tooth or composite filling, Even a slightly chipped tooth can increase the risk of tooth decay and infection if the enamel or filling is not repaired quickly.

Your dentist can examine your teeth and determine whether it was tartar or another substance that broke loose while flossing. If it was tartar, your dentist or dental hygienist can perform a thorough cleaning to remove the rest of the calculus bridge to prevent further gum irritation.
Woman during a dental checkup and cleaning appointment.
Once your teeth a thoroughly cleaned, it is important to keep them free of plaque and tartar. Brush your teeth twice a day to remove fresh plaque and string floss at least once a day. Water flossing can also be used along with professional teeth cleanings two or more times a year.

If tartar broke off while flossing, take it as a sign that you need to review your oral hygiene routine and schedule a checkup/cleaning with your dental office. Taking action right away can help prevent further deterioration of your gums, teeth and overall oral health.

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