Calculus or tartar is a form of hardened dental plaque. It is caused by the continual accumulation of minerals from saliva on plaque on the teeth. Its rough surface provides an ideal medium for further plaque formation, threatening the health of the gingiva. Plaque that remains in the oral cavity long enough will eventually calcify and become calculus. Calculus is detrimental to gingival health because it serves as a trap for increased plaque formation and retention; thus, calculus, along with everything else that causes a localized build-up of plaque, is referred to as a secondary etiology of periodontitis. Calculus can form both along the gum line where it is referred to as supragingival (“above the gum”), and within the narrow sulcus that exists between the teeth and the gingiva, where it is referred to as subgingival (“below the gum”). Calculus formation can result in a number of clinical manifestations, including bad breath, receding gums and chronically inflamed gingiva.
Tartar removal during a dental cleaning is necessary against gingivitis (gum disease) and periodontitis. It should be done at least twice a year during a dental cleaning. The dentist may recommend a more frequent tartar removal (3 to 4 months) for people suffering from disease.
The best way to prevent the build up of calculus is through twice daily toothbrushing and flossing and regular cleaning visits based on a schedule recommended by the dental health care provider. Calculus accumulates more easily in some individuals, requiring more frequent brushing and dental visits. There are also some external factors that facilitate the accumulation of calculus, including smoking and diabetes. Toothpaste with an additive ingredient of zinc citrate will also aid in preventing tartar build-up and control it.