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Calcium deposits, also called tartar or dental calculus, refer to calcified or hardened dental plaque. When dental plaque doesn’t get removed by regular brushing and flossing, it gradually absorbs calcium and other minerals. This causes it to become hard, making it almost impossible for you to remove at home.
The resulting tartar buildup may appear as a chalky or cakey substance covering parts of your teeth, especially near the gums. It can contribute to gum disease.
The deposits may range in color from white to yellow or even brown. This can depend on your diet, habits (e.g., tobacco use), and how long the tartar has been building up.
If you have a buildup of calculus on your teeth or gums, you may notice:
Dental calculus can also cause your gums to become red and inflamed (an early sign of gum disease). You may notice that your gums bleed when brushing your teeth.
Dental calculus starts as plaque. Plaque is a type of biofilm, or a sticky layer of microorganisms.1, 2
Over time, your saliva deposits minerals called calcium phosphates onto this biofilm, which forms a new breeding ground for more plaque to form.3
The result is a buildup of calculus, which isn’t as easily removed as plaque. Professional instruments are often needed to remove these calcified deposits from your teeth.
About 40 to 60% of calculus is made up of calcium-based minerals.3 The rest is made of:
The following can greatly affect your risk of developing tartar on your teeth and gums:3, 4
However, small calcified deposits may appear in certain areas of your mouth even if you have good oral hygiene. Dentists provide biannual teeth cleanings to help keep tartar to a minimum.
As plaque becomes calculus, it absorbs many of the same minerals that make up your teeth. This causes it to harden and become difficult to remove.
Professional cleaning is the fastest, safest, and most effective way to remove tartar. Dentists use cleaning instruments that can remove accumulated tartar in a single visit.5 These include scalers, curettes, and ultrasonic devices.
If you have periodontitis (advanced gum disease), you may need a more extensive procedure to remove tartar, such as scaling and root planing. This can only be performed by a professional such as a general dentist, hygienist, or periodontist.
Specially formulated toothpastes can help remove tartar over several months. They’re recommended for use with sonic toothbrushes to be fully effective.6
Brushing your teeth with water and baking soda may also help soften and remove tartar over time. Be sure not to apply baking soda without water, as baking soda on a dry tooth surface can be excessively abrasive.7
Neither of these options will be as efficient as getting a professional cleaning. However, they may be enough to remove smaller deposits.
To prevent calculus from building up in the first place, you’ll need to have a strong defense against plaque formation.
You can keep plaque from accumulating and turning into tartar by:
All of these will help keep your teeth and gums healthy and reduce the oral bacteria that form plaque.
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