Dental Calculus Causes & Treatment

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Written by
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Evidence Based
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4 sources cited
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What is Dental Calculus (Tartar)?

Dental plaque is the sticky substance that forms on teeth from bacterial buildup. This sticky plaque biofilm coats your teeth, develops under your gum line, and sticks to fillings and other dental work. Plaque is full of bacteria that can damage tooth enamel and result in cavities.

dental calculus plaque

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

Dental calculus can trap stains on the 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 likely need to visit a general dentist to remove dental calculus altogether.

Individuals vary significantly in their susceptibility to plaque and dental calculus. For many people, 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 permanent tooth decay and gum disease. However, 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 a professional teeth cleaning. 

Dental plaque is usually colorless or pale yellow. A dentist can find dental 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

A person’s mouth is a thriving ecosystem. Bacteria and other organisms enter the mouth when you eat, drink, and breathe. Mostly, a gentle balance works well for your oral health. However, 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, and 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) if not removed.

Why It’s Important to Prevent Calculus Buildup

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. This includes brushing your teeth, flossing, and using an antiseptic mouthwash regularly. You should also visit your dental hygienist for regular cleanings (every six months).


Any dental tartar that develops above your gum line can be particularly harmful to you. The bacterial buildup of dental calculus can irritate and damage your gums. When gingivitis is left untreated, this can lead to advanced gum disease known as periodontitis. The bacteria in periodontal disease patients causes the breakdown of bone and tissue. Periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States.

periodonal disease

If you don’t look after your teeth, gingivitis can worsen. Calculus formation and pockets develop between the gums and teeth, becoming infected by bacteria. This condition is periodontitis.

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

How to Remove Dental Calculus

Prevention is essential 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. 

Brush Your Teeth Twice Daily

It is best to choose a toothbrush with an adequate size brush head that is not too big or small. Choose a toothbrush that has soft, round bristles for the best efficiency. The toothbrush should allow you to reach every area in your mouth easily. The toothbrush should 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.

Consume 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.

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. 

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.

Have a Scaling and Root Planing Treatment

Scaling and root planing is a deep cleaning treatment. The treatment is typically performed within a few visits depending on how many quadrants of your mouth you need help with.

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

To achieve efficient dental calculus removal, a dental hygienist will use various tools. These devices include an ultrasonic instrument, periodontal scaler, curettes, hoes, files, and chisels.

These tools are produced to treat different parts of the mouth. An ultrasonic device uses a combination of high-frequency vibrations with water to remove the tartar.

Hoes, chisels, and files are less commonly used. This is because they work well to remove large amounts of dental tartar. Ultrasonic scalers are more successful in removing the dental calculus later, 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 when compared to conventional hand tools. This is because thin and flexible fibers can emit laser energy that can access periodontal pockets. Periodontal pockets can otherwise be challenging to reach.

These methods in calculus teeth treatment demand extensive dentistry knowledge and training. Dental hygienists must learn and adapt to them before performing these techniques in a dentist’s office.


Plaque and tartar on teeth, MedlinePlus, 2020, 

Periodontitis, MedlinePlus, 2020, 

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, 

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,

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