A yellow build-up on my teeth

Dr. Hylan,

My lower teeth have a yellow build-up on them, and when I try to remove it, it seems as though I don’t have any tooth left. What is that and what can I do?

Wanda in Georgia

It sounds like it just must be quite a while since you’ve had your teeth cleaned.

The yellow build-up is called calculus or tartar. What happens is that your saliva has minerals in it, and those minerals very gradually build up on your teeth as a substance called calculus. When that build-up is visible, it is called tartar.

The build-up occurs so gradually that people often get used to it, and when it is cleaned off it feels strange, like there are large gaps between their teeth or part of each tooth is gone. But it needs to be all cleaned off.

Calculus is very damaging to the health of the gums. It leads to gum disease, and over a period of years it causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. The teeth become loose and will eventually fall out. When the teeth are loose, it is usually too late to save them. The best practice is to have your teeth cleaned every six months. If you are particularly susceptible to gum disease, it may even be recommended to have them cleaned more often.

For more information, read our dental hygiene page where we explain how we check for gum disease each time you have your teeth cleaned in our office.