After eating, do you brush your teeth right away? If not, you might notice a thin, sticky film that begins coating your teeth. It’s called plaque, and if it’s not removed through brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, also called calculus.
It can coat multiple teeth, forming a calculus bridge. You’ll need to visit your dentist’s office to have that hardened calculus removed so it doesn’t affect the health of your teeth and gums.
Plaque forms very easily on your teeth. This sticky film develops not long after you eat or drink something — usually something starchy or sugary.
The residue from that food mixes with the bacteria in your mouth, releasing acids that break down the carbohydrates in your food and drinks. Now you have a combo of carbohydrates, acids, and bacteria that begins to form a colorless layer over your teeth. That’s plaque.
However, the process doesn’t stop there. The plaque doesn’t go away by itself. If you don’t brush and floss your teeth soon after to remove the sticky film, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar.
This calcified dental plaque is also called dental calculus. The process doesn’t take that long, either. Research suggests that it occurs
It’s dangerous because the tartar doesn’t just stay on your teeth. It can begin to spread and progress down into your gumline. That calculus, which can stain and look tan or brown on your teeth, can affect the tissue under your gumline and cause gum disease and tooth decay.
The amount of tartar buildup can vary from mouth to mouth, so a calculus bridge can also look different from person to person.
In general, a calculus bridge will resemble a border of brown or tan along the edge of your teeth by your gumline. In more severe cases, it may extend down into the gumline or further up along the surface of the teeth.
A solid layer of calculus on your teeth may have a noticeable appearance. A dental calculus bridge can also lead to these conditions:
Plaque and a buildup of tartar can make your breath smell, too. This is a condition known as halitosis.
Your gums may become red or inflamed. You may first notice it when you experience some bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth. If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis.
Receding gums are also a type of periodontal disease. Your gums may begin to recede from your teeth, exposing more of your teeth and allowing bacteria to creep into the gaps between your gums and your teeth.
The tartar that builds up on your teeth can shield bacteria from your toothbrush. Plaque and tartar can also cause tiny holes to form in the enamel on your teeth, allowing bacteria and acid to seep down into the tooth and cause cavities to develop.
If dental calculus goes untreated, it can cause gum disease that can eventually lead to the loss of one or more teeth.
Once you have a bridge of calcified plaque or calculus on your teeth, you can’t brush it off. A dentist or dental hygienist will need to remove it. A professional cleaning can sometimes remove all or the vast majority of it.
If the calculus has reached down into or below the gumline, a professional cleaning won’t be enough to remove it.
At that point, a dental hygienist may use a handheld tool called a dental scaler, which has a small hook on the end, to scrape and carefully remove the hardened plaque and tartar from around your gumline.
After scaling your teeth, the hygienist may then smooth out areas on the root surfaces in a process called root planing. There are also ultrasonic instruments that can remove calculus buildup.
If the dental calculus is extensive, it may take more than one session to address it. Your gums may be sore afterward from this extensive cleaning.
Dental hygiene is key when it comes to preventing the buildup of tartar and the formation of a calculus bridge.
Since dental calculus can start building up within just a few days of the formation of plaque, you’ll want to be vigilant about removing plaque before it gets to that point.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends these steps to keep your mouth healthy and tartar-free:
- Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Make sure you spend a full 2 minutes brushing each time, too.
- Clean between your teeth every day. This step, known as interdental cleaning, can include flossing or the use of another tool to clear away the debris that might hide between your teeth.
- Limit sugary drinks and snacks. If you cut back on sugary items, there will be fewer opportunities for the bacteria in your mouth to mingle with the sugar that’s left behind and form plaque on your teeth.
- See a dentist regularly for a checkup. A dentist can carefully monitor your teeth and gums for signs of gum disease, like gingivitis or receding gums, and tooth decay. They can also learn your habits and make recommendations for strategies that may help you stick to a regular routine.
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Look for a toothpaste that contains both fluoride and triclosan, which studies suggest may fight the bacteria in plaque.
The number one strategy to protect your teeth is to prevent tartar or calculus buildup.
If you regularly brush and floss your teeth, you may be able to prevent plaque from building up — which means you may never have a calculus bridge that needs removal.