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Updated on October 3, 2022

Dental Calculus Causes & Treatment

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What is Dental Calculus (Tartar)?

Dental plaque is a sticky substance that forms on teeth from bacterial build-up. It damages tooth enamel and can cause cavities and other oral health conditions.

Plaque develops on the surfaces of teeth and under the gum line. It also sticks to fillings and other dental work.

dental calculus plaque

If plaque isn’t removed daily, it hardens and develops into dental calculus. Dental calculus is also known as tartar.

Dental calculus can trap stains on teeth, causing discoloration. Tartar is also rough and porous. It may make it more challenging to remove new plaque and bacteria. Calculus can also lead to receding gums and gum disease. 

Tartar produces a strong bond that only a dental professional can remove efficiently using special tools. While flossing may dislodge some tartar, you’ll need to visit a general dentist to remove dental calculus completely.

Who is at Risk for Plaque Build-Up?

People vary significantly in their susceptibility to plaque and dental calculus. For many, tartar deposits build up more quickly as they age.

Even if you practice excellent dental care at home, you will always have bacteria in your mouth.

If you remove dental plaque regularly, you can avoid tooth decay and gum disease.

Significant issues can arise if plaque hardens into tartar, such as cavities, gum disease, and even tooth loss. Tartar can only be removed by your dentist during professional teeth cleanings. 

Dental plaque is usually colorless or pale yellow. A dentist can find plaque on your teeth by looking in your mouth with a small mirror and dental explorer during an oral examination.

Causes of Dental Calculus Buildup

Your mouth is a thriving ecosystem. Bacteria and other organisms enter the mouth when you eat, drink, and breathe.

A gentle balance works well for your oral health. But issues can arise when specific strains of bacteria become overabundant.

When you consume carbohydrates and sugary foods and beverages, bacteria feed on the sugars. This process produces acids. These acids can lead to:

  • Cavities
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Staining
  • Emergency infections like a dental abscess
  • Other oral health conditions

Tooth decay caused by dental plaque build-up can even develop under your gums where it isn’t visible. If this occurs, the plaque can cause bone loss and deep gum pockets over time, eventually leading to tooth loss. 

How Does Tartar Affect Your Teeth and Gums?

Tooth surfaces with dental calculus are rough. This makes it challenging to remove the tartar with a toothbrush and floss.

Plaque can be removed at home with a normal toothbrush. Tartar can only be removed during professional teeth cleanings, which is why it is essential to visit your dentist every six months.

Tartar is also unattractive and unsightly. It can be yellow or brown as stains accumulate.

Since tartar cannot be removed at home with a toothbrush, it commonly leads to tooth decay, bad breath, and advanced gum disease (periodontitis).

Why It’s Important to Prevent Calculus Buildup

Preventing plaque and calculus build-up is essential for your oral health. Left unremoved, oral health issues like cavities and gum disease can develop over time.

gingivitis

The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. Gingivitis can typically be stopped and reversed within two weeks if you maintain good oral hygiene by:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day
  • Flossing daily
  • Using an antiseptic mouthwash regularly
  • Visiting your dental hygienist for regular cleanings (every six months)

Any tartar that develops above your gum line can be particularly harmful. This is because the bacteria in dental calculus irritate and damage the gums.

periodonal disease

If gingivitis isn't treated promptly, it can lead to advanced gum disease known as periodontitis. Pockets develop between the gums and teeth. These spaces become infected with bacteria, leading to symptoms like:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Inflammation
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose or sensitive teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Pus
  • Teeth misalignment
  • Bad breath
  • Partial dentures that don't fit properly

Periodontitis leads to the breakdown of bone and tissue. This disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States.

The bacterial buildup from advanced gum disease is also linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other dental issues.

5 Ways to Prevent and Remove Calculus

Prevention is vital for good oral health. Your dentist or hygienist should show you how to brush and floss your teeth to remove dental plaque before it turns into calculus. 

1. Brush Your Teeth Twice Daily

Choose a toothbrush with an adequate size brush head that is not too big or small. The toothbrush should:

  • Have soft, round bristles for the best efficiency
  • Be flexible enough to reach every area in your mouth easily
  • Not be abrasive (or it can wear away your gum tissue and enamel, leading to sensitivity)

Electric toothbrushes clean teeth more effectively than manual options. Brush your teeth for at least two minutes during each session.

Remember: it's difficult to remove calculus at home with a normal toothbrush. Professional cleanings are usually necessary.

2. Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating well-balanced meals and a varied diet helps keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Avoid snacking between meals, especially if the snacks are sticky or sugary. You should also avoid foods high in carbohydrates, like potato chips.

If you do snack in the evenings, always brush your teeth afterward. It would be best if you did not eat or drink after bedtime brushing unless it is water.

3. Use a Baking Soda Toothpaste

Using toothpaste with baking soda is efficient in removing plaque and helps remove surface stains. It also makes your teeth look brighter. 

4. Visit Your Dental Hygienist Regularly

It’s essential to visit your dentist or dental hygienist for a comprehensive teeth cleaning and oral exam at least every six months. People who have periodontal disease will need more frequent, deep cleanings.

Plaque that has transformed into tartar must be removed by a dental professional. As dental calculus can build up in hard-to-reach areas, it’s essential to visit a dentist at least twice a year to keep it under control.

You can minimize the chances of gum disease by getting professional dental cleanings more than twice a year.

5. Scaling and Root Planing Treatment

Scaling and root planing is a deep cleaning treatment. It is typically performed within a few visits depending on how many quadrants of your mouth require cleanings.

Scaling and root planing helps remove bacteria and plaque sitting below the gums to avoid tartar buildup. This will ensure your roots are smooth and don’t have any tartar that can cause bone loss.

A dental professional will apply local anesthesia during the procedure so you don’t feel any discomfort. 

Best Dental Calculus Remover

For efficient dental calculus removal, a dental hygienist will use various tools. These include:

  • Ultrasonic instrument
  • Periodontal scaler
  • Curettes
  • Hoes
  • Files
  • Chisels

An ultrasonic device uses a combination of high-frequency vibrations and water to remove tartar.

Hoes, chisels, and files are not used as commonly. Ultrasonic scalers are more successful in removing dental calculus, stains, and plaque. They’re also used for root planing, curettage, and surgical debridement. 

A curette removes soft tissue lining. Surgical debridement removes thick or dense dental plaque and calculus deposits. The best results in dental debridement occur when using ultrasonic tools.

Near-ultraviolet (NUV) and near-infrared lasers are also useful in removing dental calculus.

The use of lasers in dental calculus removal provides additional benefits compared to conventional hand tools. The thin, flexible fibers emit laser energy to access deep periodontal pockets. These pockets can be challenging to reach without lasers.

These calculus removal methods require extensive dentistry knowledge and training.

4 Sources Cited
Last updated on October 3, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Plaque and tartar on teeth, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002044.htm 
  2. Periodontitis, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001059.htm 
  3. Valkenburg, Cees et al., The efficacy of baking soda dentifrice in controlling plaque and gingivitis: A systematic review., International journal of dental hygiene vol. 17,2, 2019, 99-116, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30734996/ 
  4. Alshehri, Fahad Ali., The use of mouthwash containing essential oils (LISTERINE®) to improve oral health: A systematic review., The Saudi dental journal vol. 30,1, 2018, : 2-6, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6112363/
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