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What is dental calculus?

Aug 28, 2023Oral health

What is dental calculus?

A recent study has found that 68% of adults have dental tartar, also known as calculus. Calculus is a hard, calcified deposit caused by the buildup of plaque, which occurs if it is not removed regularly through brushing and flossing. This process takes place within 24 to 72 hours after the plaque is formed. Tartar buildup can impede proper oral hygiene, resulting in an increased risk of tooth decay, gingivitis, and halitosis. Since tartar adheres firmly to the tooth surface, it must be professionally removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.


Causes of Dental Calculus

Despite regularly practicing good oral hygiene, bacteria will inevitably accumulate in the mouth when food containing sugar or starch is consumed. This combination of bacteria and food results in the creation of a sticky film known as dental plaque, which coats the teeth, gums, and any dental restorations present. Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria that produces acids that can deteriorate tooth enamel, resulting in cavities. If plaque is not addressed with proper oral hygiene and removed regularly, it hardens into tartar. Tartar cannot be removed without professional tools and, if left untreated, may lead to gum recession and gum disease.

Individuals with a certain lifestyle and dietary habits are more likely to develop plaque. Factors that increase the risk of plaque buildup include:

  • Consume high-sugar foods such as candies, desserts, and pastries.
  • Consume foods rich in carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and potato chips.
  • Experience dry mouth due to inadequate water consumption or when taking certain medications.
  • Smoke or chew tobacco.

It is impossible to entirely eliminate plaque, yet one can limit its build-up by practicing good oral hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing on a regular basis.


Prevent Dental Calculus

The optimal way to avoid tartar buildup is by utilizing proper oral hygiene. This can be accomplished by:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes each and floss regularly.
  • Use an electric toothbrush and replace the bristles every three months.
  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings every 6 months.
  • Maintain a healthy diet by eating a balance of nutritious foods and limiting the intake of sugars and starches.
  • Refrain from using smoking or chewing tobacco products.


Dental Calculus Removal

Tartar buildup forms an extremely strong bond with tooth enamel, requiring the expertise of a dental professional to remove it. To address this, dentists may perform a professional cleaning, debridement, or scaling and root planning.

The American Dental Association recommends adults have a professional dental cleaning every six months, particularly if they have no large deposits of plaque or tartar and have preserved bone and tissue around their teeth due to the absence of periodontal disease. During your regular dental checkup and cleaning, your dentist or dental hygienist will utilize a scaler to effectively eliminate any dental plaque, tartar, and stains found near your gums and between your teeth.

It is recommended that individuals with dense calculus build-up on their teeth undergo debridement in order to allow a comprehensive oral evaluation. This process typically involves the use of ultrasonic instruments and hand tools to chip away at tartar deposits, before completely removing them.

If you exhibit signs of periodontal (gum) disease, such as pockets between your teeth and gums, you may need to receive scaling and root planning, which is a type of deep cleaning. The procedure is executed through local anesthesia and the plaque and tartar are removed from both above and below the gum line to the base of the pocket. Following the removal, the roots of the teeth are evened out in order to facilitate the reattachment of the gums to the teeth.

It is essential to take preventive measures and monitor oral hygiene in order to avoid more complex and expensive dental issues in the future.

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