The Truth about Tartar

Barbara Tritz
· June 26, 2023 ·

6 minutes

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Tartar Buildup Behind the Front Teeth

Why, Oh Why do some teeth (people, actually, but poetic license here) build up tartar and others never do?  I’d always secretly blamed it on folks just being lazy and going to bed without brushing.  But, I may have been totally wrong, and I am so glad!  It’s not you- well, yes it is – but not in the way you’d think.  (I love aha moments!)

In a previous post, I discussed nutrition and how food is our best medicine.  When we eat acellural carbohydrates it can cause what’s termed “leaky gut.”  This inflammation in our digestive tract causes an autoimmune problem within our bodies.  It may well be the source of the inflammation in our mouths leading to dental diseases- both tooth decay and gum disease!  It’s not all about your toothbrush and technique or floss/no floss.  Instead, it’s about nutrients and good healthy clean eating.  I’m quite new to all this food, health, and clean eating stuff, and I find it fascinating.

Prehistoric man didn’t have much, if any, tooth decay and gum disease- until about 12,000 or so years ago.  Dental disease was uncommon.  I’d always wondered what happened when they had toothaches.  Now I know it was rare.

Plaque, as you may recall from previous blog posts, is the soft stuff that forms on teeth.  It’s a bacterial community (biofilm) that loves living in your mouth, on your teeth, gums, tongue, and even tonsillar regions.  It’s normal and starts forming again right after that wonderful oral wellness and recare visit with your favorite dental hygienist.  This microscopic world is quite organized and complex.  It’s made up of bacteria, fungus, and other pathogens, minerals, and nutrients from your saliva, food debris, and cells.  It’s like a little teeny tiny universe living underneath your gumline.  I love looking at these bacteria under my microscope.

Prehistoric man had plaque buildup too.  The big question- What changed from prehistoric man to now?   The bacteria that cause us to have tooth decay is called Mutans streptococcus.  Prehistoric man had these bacteria too, although they did not cause him tooth decay.  Something changed within the bacteria.  Around the time man started farming, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, tooth decay and gum disease took off.  Upwards of 48% of people at that time had tooth decay, whereas before then decay ranged from 0% to at most 14% of teeth.

An isolated tribe living in a Moroccan cave 15,000 years ago- known as The people of Grotte des Pigeons are noted as having the worst teeth in history.  They were eating an acorn that became soft and sticky when cooked, and they probably snacked all day! So, whether it is grains and carbohydrates from farming or sugary snacks from those acorns, there seems to be a connection to dental diseases.  The bacteria changed with the inclusion of these fermentable carbohydrates.  What’s even more interesting to note is that our ancient forebearers had a much more diverse microbiome than we do now.  Their bacterial population was different and more able to bear the stresses of disease.  The Paleo diet may be on to something important.

The Truth About Tartar

All interesting stuff, but the real meat (pardon the paleo pun) of today’s post is why do some folks build up all that hard tartar that requires scraping.  (But that dental hygienists love to remove – we were born pickers 🙂 )

Here’s my “aha/light bulb/blowing my mind plus oh my goodness! and why didn’t I know this earlier in my career moment?!?”  Truly!

Tartar is calcified plaque, it is plaque that has hardened like a barnacle to the side of the tooth.  We, in the dental world, call it “calculus.”   Here’s the missing piece, it may be building up on our teeth (and retainers and nightguards) because there’s a vitamin deficiency!  Vitamin K2 to be precise.  Bet you’ve never even heard of K2 unless you’re familiar with Dr. Westin Price’s research. Vitamin K2 tells the calcium in the blood where to go. It should go in your teeth and in your bones. But, then there is a lack of Vitamin K2 the calcium ends up on your teeth and in your arteries.

Vitamin K2 is wonderful. Could it be the fountain of youth?!  It has so many important functions in the body.  It benefits every part of you, from reducing wrinkles to improving fertility, and brain health, preventing heart attacks and strokes, preventing cancer, and even improving exercise performance.  There are even more.  Read Dr. Lin’s post on how Vitamin K2 helps guide calcium in your blood to where your body needs it to go.  It helps make bones and teeth strong!

So, a deficiency in Vitamin K2 may be a marker for tartar buildup.  Don’t stop brushing and cleaning in-between your teeth, because those that have poor oral hygiene are in double trouble if you have low K2 levels and poor oral hygiene- and here’s the rub!  Most of us have low K2 levels!!

Tooth decay, Tartar and Gum Disease

Why should tartar be removed?  As I tell my patients, it acts as a concrete hotel for more plaque to adhere to and build upon.  It becomes like a coral reef and builds upon itself. It creates a perfect environment for gum disease as well as tooth decay. So while I enjoy removing it, and you pay lots to have that done, maybe, by upping your K2 levels, you can reduce your tartar levels and have a healthier mouth!  I’d like that even better.  I realize no one really likes having that scraping done.  Not all tartar build-up causes gum disease, though, so there’s still a lot to learn here.

Vitamin K2 and your Body

Here’s a big “but wait, there’s more!” Low K2 levels may also be a marker for plaque and calcium buildup in your arteries.  Hardening of the arteries! Not what we want. Currently,  research is showing that supplementing with K2 after building-up calcium in the arteries does not reverse this. More research is needed. My question is if we have adequate K2 from the beginning, will that prevent hardening of the arteries? Prevention starts at birth. 

Nutrient Supplementation

Vitamin K 2 needs help from Vitamin D3, as well as magnesium. They all work together.  If you take D3 (and unless you are out in the sunshine in AZ or FL, you should be) then you need to also take K2.  According to Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, author of Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life   (A book I highly recommend) the recommended daily dose of K2 is between 180 -200 micrograms.  That should be enough to get the calcium where it needs to go and clean up the places it should not be lodging.  If you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant then you should take even more but please check with your doctor. Research is needed here so this number may change down the road.

No toxic effects have been noted with higher levels of K2 but before starting any vitamin or mineral regime, check in with your doctor and see what your blood levels are and adjust accordingly.  Don’t take Vitamin  D3 without also taking K2.  They need each other like crops need rain…  and magnesium too– but again, checkin with your doc.

I had a hard time finding K2 time the grocery store, which is not the same as K or K1.  You may need to order it or go to a vitamin store or get it from your primary care doctor.  It’s not necessarily hanging around the local drug stores or supermarket counters.

Eggs, Meat, and Cheese Provide Vitamin K2

What foods are rich in K2?  Organic, grass-fed animal products like eggs, cheese, and meats, and then there are fermented foods, certain cheeses as well as goose liver pâté…  So, yes,  you might also want to supplement.  Personally, I do like pâté, but, I understand.

I finally got myself a pill case and dispense four weeks’ worth of vitamins/supplements at a time so I work through them and remember (almost) every morning!

Dr. Steven Lin, my main source of so much dental wisdom has a post discussing the proper quantities of K2 to take.  And, for those with osteoporosis and osteopenia, you may need even more K2.  Read his blog (as well as mine, of course).

Tartar Be Gone

So, there’s the truth, the untold tale about tartar.  Vitamin K2 deficiency.  That could very well be why you build it up.  Now, surprise your fabulous hygienist and go into your next appointment with sparking clean and healthy teeth!  Banish those barnacles!  You know the secret that even she or he may not yet know. You might get to teach your ol’ hygienist new tricks!

Til next time,

Keep smiling!

Barbara Tritz RDH

Queen Of Dental Hygiene and Wise about Tartar

Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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4 Comments

  1. Amy

    Very interesting article!!! Thanks so much!

    Reply
  2. Kate

    Thank you for this! I found it helpful – but the link for Dr. Lin’s blog didn’t work. Help 🙂

    Reply
    • Barbara Tritz

      Thank you Kate,
      I just realized this as well. I think Dr Lin changed up his website and I can’t find all his good info. His book: The Dental Diet has this info within it and is worth reading. I am disappointed he took down his previous website- that was my go-to reference when I needed answers for patients.
      If I can find where he moved things I will let you know.
      ~Barbara

      Reply

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