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What Is Dental Calculus?

When plaque is left to accumulate on a person's teeth, it eventually turns into tartar. Also known as calculus, this calcified plaque hardens on teeth surfaces, giving it a yellowish color. Tartar is a haven for enamel-damaging bacteria, and it cannot be removed with brushing or flossing.

Dental calculus is inevitable when a person does not practice good oral hygiene. Plaque starts building up in a person's mouth whenever they eat. The bacteria breaks down the starches and sugars of food into corrosive acids that can damage the enamel and inner layers of a tooth. Plaque tends to have a whitish, translucent color, but you can easily detect its presence by running your tongue or fingers over your teeth. Plaque is the sticky film that can be felt on teeth after getting up in the morning or after a nap.

That is what causes the bad taste that comes with "morning mouth." Excessive accumulation of plaque is the biggest factor that contributes to two of the most common dental diseases: tooth decay and gum disease.

Plaque buildup can easily be removed from a person's teeth surfaces by practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing is typically enough to remove this sticky substance. When left on a person's teeth for extended periods, it eventually hardens into tartar.

Tartar is even more harmful, since it offers protection to the bacteria that live inside the mouth. Once calculus begins to accumulate on a person's teeth, a dental cleaning performed by a dentist is required to get it off.

Common signs of dental calculus include the formation of brown or yellow stains on teeth. Calculus is a porous substance and more susceptible to stains than natural teeth. Tartar also tends to seep under the gums, often leading to early stages of gum disease. Gum disease can be reversed at this time, but the latter stages are irreversible. It can eventually lead to the total loss of a tooth.


Dental cleanings are one of the most basic procedures performed by dentists. They use special tools to scrape tartar off teeth surfaces without damaging the enamel, then the spaces between the teeth are cleaned with floss. The dentist will finish by applying a topical fluoride treatment that can keep teeth free of decay for months at a time.

The dentist will also conduct a full examination of the mouth. Dentists recommend getting teeth professionally cleaned at least twice a year. This prevents significant amounts of tartar from accumulating.

Keeping teeth tartar-free does not stop there, though. It is still a personal responsibility to keep the plaque accumulation on the teeth to a very minimum. Practicing good oral hygiene will help.

Want to learn more about dental calculus? Contact one of our dentists today!

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