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Solving the Calculus Removal Mystery

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Perhaps you've sat in a classroom where solving calculus problems was as mysterious as the identity of Jack the Ripper. But never fear. We're not talking mathematics – nor Victorian murders – but rather, we're referring to dental tartar, also known as calculus.

We'll give you the 101 on dental tartar – how it develops, what mischief it can cause, how you can prevent it, and how to kill, er, remove it to maintain good oral health.

Calculus Crash Course: What Is It?

Okay, let's move to the science classroom: As we noted, regarding dental health, calculus is more commonly known as tartar. Calculus results from plaque buildup that hardens – or calcifies (like bone) – on your teeth. (Ah! Now the term makes sense, right?)

Calculus Development

Here's how your mouth's bacteria evolve into calculus:

  1. Bacteria in your mouth – and there are always bacteria in your mouth – stick to the smooth surfaces of your teeth and gums to form plaque (aka biofilm).
  2. Plaque consumes sugars and starches of everything you put in your mouth – food, beverages, chewing gum, breath mints, pencil erasers – to produce acids leading to tooth decay.
  3. Not brushing your teeth twice daily to help scrub away the plaque buildup causes the biofilm to calcify, morphing into tartar. Other ways you can allow plaque buildup is not to brush correctly and not visit your dental professional regularly to remove plaque you missed.
  4. Tartar provides a hard, smooth surface for more sticky plaque, which, as you know, eventually becomes calculus – leading to a continuous plaque-tartar loop.

Did You Know? Calculus buildup causes your smile to become duller. And not just because of the dental bills you might incur. A porous substance, tartar absorbs stains easily. As you might imagine, preventing calculus buildup on teeth is an even bigger priority for smokers and drinkers of coffee, tea, and red wine.

Calculus Types

There are two types of dental calculus:

  • Supragingival forms above the gumline. It's yellow or tan and is visible on a tooth's surface.
  • Subgingival forms below the gumline in the sulcus (crevice) between the teeth and the gumline. It typically isn't visible with the naked eye unless gum recession has already taken place. Subgingival is typically brown or black.

Why It's Crucial to Remove Calculus

Calculus removal is necessary to prevent tooth loss and several serious health issues you want to avoid. You'll do yourself a great favor by shutting down the plaque-calculus loop for these reasons:

Calculus Removal Process

Now that you know what dental calculus is and why it's essential to remove it, there's only one thing to reveal: How can you remove tartar?

The first thing to know: You can't remove it at home. You can use tartar-control toothpaste to prevent it. You can remove the plaque that develops into tartar with proper oral hygiene. But, alas, you can't remove the hardened calculus yourself.

Once calculus collects on your teeth, you'll need a dental professional's expertise and equipment. Debridement is the name of the process to remove both supragingival and subgingival calculus as such:

  • 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, you'll schedule a follow-up visit, at which your dental professional will determine if further treatment is necessary. That could come in the form of scaling and root planing. Or, in more severe cases of calculus accumulation, you might need gum surgery. We know you don't want to let tartar and plaque buildup go that far.

Now that you're a calculus expert, you know preventing calcified plaque - aka tartar - is key to building a solid oral care foundation. Start with brushing at least twice a day combined with cleaning between your teeth daily (floss, interdental brushes, water flosser). And don't forget regular dental visits. If calculus is caught early, it'll be no mystery as to why your teeth are healthy and your smile is bright.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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