When plaque builds up in your mouth, it can turn into an even greater dental health threat: calculus. This formation, also known as tartar, is a calcified mass that adheres to your teeth. Calculus is classified as either supragingival or subgingival, depending on its location on your teeth. If left unremoved, subgingival calculus can lead to gum disease and tooth loss.
Plaque, Tartar, & Calculus: What Is the Difference?
You know that plaque, tartar, and calculus are all enemies of excellent oral health, but you might not know exactly what they are. Some people even think that all of these elements are exactly the same, but your dentist will tell you that this isn’t the case.
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so important to brush and floss your teeth each day, plaque has a great deal to do with it. Plaque will continuously form on your tooth enamel, so it’s your job to continuously get rid of it. Unaddressed plaque can lead to dental health problems like gum disease, so make sure you stay on top of your dental hygiene.
When you let plaque continue to form on your teeth, you might find yourself dealing with a number of oral health problems. Over time the plaque will harden and turn into tartar, which can then give way to tooth decay and the problems that come along with it. If you have a gum infection, tartar buildup can also stand to make it worse. Keep in mind that you’ll need your dentist’s help if you want to remove tartar, as standard brushing will no longer do the trick.
While plaque and tartar are different, tartar and calculus actually are one in the same. Calculus—or tartar—can have a significant impact on your oral health. Make sure you brush your teeth twice each day and see your dentist routinely to get rid of the buildup, prevent calculus from forming, and preserve your oral health.
Tartar impacts your gums
The irritation and inflammation that tartar produces can lead to gum disease. Early stage gum disease, which can be reversed, is known as gingivitis. Symptoms include:
- red, swollen gums
- gums that bleed when you floss or brush
- tender gums
Gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which cannot be reversed. In addition to swollen, tender, bleeding gums, look for these signs:
- painful chewing
- loose teeth
- gums separating from teeth
- pus collecting between your teeth
The bacteria that causes periodontitis can gain entry to the bloodstream, which may increase the risk of heart and lung disease. This makes it especially important to seek dental care if you notice any of these symptoms.
These severe effects are avoidable through brushing, flossing, and rinsing your teeth as regularly as possible.
How Calculus Develops
Plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth, can mineralize due to the exchange of calcium and phosphate ions present in your saliva. This process is what creates calculus, a hard mass of bacteria stuck to your tooth surfaces.
Plaque can harden into calculus in as little as four to eight hours. The average length of time for mineralization, however, is 10 to 12 days. Calcification times can vary from person to person, depending on their salivary pH and the amount of calcium and other substances in their saliva. Once calculus forms, it then attracts more plaque, which in time can become another layer of calcified material.
Why is it important to prevent dental calculus buildup?
The surface of tartar is rough and makes it difficult to remove plaque with a toothbrush and floss. Tartar is unsightly – it can be yellow or even brown as stains accumulate. In addition, since it attracts plaque and makes cleaning at home difficult, it can contribute to tooth decay, bad breath and serious forms of gum disease.
Why It’s Crucial to Remove?
Calculus removal is crucial to prevent several serious health issues. According to researches, calculus buildup can cause gums to swell and bleed. This condition is known as gingivitis; the initial stage of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease has also been linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and strokes. Bacteria from plaque and tartar can also find its way into the bloodstream, which can result in such conditions like endocarditis, when blood clots and the inner lining of the heart becoming infected.
There are so many ailments that can befall the mouth. But the common denominator in preventing unnecessary trips to your dentist is building a solid foundation of oral care. Start with brushing at least twice a day combined with daily flossing. Using a good toothpaste will help prevent tartar buildup, remove stains and negate the need for a calculus removal procedure. And don’t forget regular dental visits. If you think you might have a tartar problem, who better to consult with than your dentist and dental hygienist?
How do I remove tartar from teeth?
Stop tartar by stopping plaque
Plaque can harden into tartar in a matter of hours, which is why it’s so important to brush and floss daily. The following items are recommended:
- Brush twice a day, two minutes at a time.
- Use a toothbrush you’re comfortable with. Choosing to use a manual or a powered toothbrush is a matter of personal preference — both will effectively remove plaque if used correctly and consistently. But greater removal of plaque with a powered toothbrush.
- Use a soft-bristled brush.
- Brush at an angle and include your gums. Angle the brush at 45 degrees so you can get bristles up into the corners between teeth and gums, where plaque can hide. Use your toothbrush on the areas where your teeth and gumline meet, too.
- Use gentle, short strokes.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss once a day.
Ways to make it tough for tartar to form
Removing tartar takes a professional, but there are things you can do — in addition to regular brushing and flossing — that reduce the amount of plaque in your mouth and control tartar buildup. They include:
- Tartar-control toothpaste. One study comparing the effectiveness of a tartar-control toothpaste to a cavity-protection one found that those using the tartar-control toothpaste had nearly 35 percent less calculus at the study’s end than those using regular fluoride toothpaste.
- Toothpaste with baking soda. Because baking soda is slightly abrasive, studies show that toothpastes with this ingredient can better remove plaque than toothpastes without it.
- Skip the charcoal-based toothpastes. Charcoal-based toothpastes have not been proven to be effective at controlling tartar, nor have they been proven to be safe.
A study found that drinking green tea may reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. If you don’t want to drink tea, try a mouthwash that has tea in it.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables
Because they promote vigorous chewing, and thus saliva production, these foods can help wash away some of the bacteria in your mouth that produce plaque. Same goes for sugar-free chewing gum.
Calculus Removal Process
Once calculus collects on your teeth in large quantities, it needs to be removed via a process known as debridement. A dental hygienist will use either hand-held instruments or an ultrasonic device to remove the tartar. The ultrasonic device incorporates a combination of high-frequency vibrations with water to extricate the tartar. After the debridement procedure, your dentist will schedule you for a follow-up visit at which time he or she will determine if further treatment is necessary. That could come in the form of scaling and root planning or in more severe cases of calculus accumulation – gum surgery may be needed.
How often to have tartar removed
The frequency of dental visits should be dependent on your oral health and your dentist’s recommendation.
But, many dentists advise getting a dental cleaning and checkup every six months, and more often than that if you have gum disease or are at risk of gum disease (if you smoke or have diabetes, for example). You’ll also need more frequent cleanings if you’re prone to plaque (and thus tartar) formation.
People who may need cleanings more often include:
- Those with dry mouth, often caused by medications or aging. While saliva does contain bacteria, your saliva also helps wash away food particles.
- Those who lack the physical dexterity to thoroughly brush their teeth.
- Those who have conditions preventing them from fully understanding or completing a dental hygiene routine.