Causes, Side Effects, Risks, Prevention

When plaque on your teeth gets out of control, it hardens and forms tartar, also known as tartar calculus. A tartar bridge is when this buildup covers several teeth and begins to fill in gaps. If left untreated, it can lead to serious dental problems, including gum disease and tooth decay.

This article provides an overview of tartar bridges, including their causes, their impact on oral health, and their treatment and prevention.

Pollyanna Ventura

How Plaque Can Cause a Calculus Bridge?

Plaque is a bacteria-rich film that forms on teeth, along the gumline and on surfaces such as fillings and crowns. This colorless or pale yellow substance naturally forms during the day as bacteria digest carbohydrates and sugars from the foods and drinks you consume.

If plaque is not removed from your teeth, it hardens to form tartar. Calculus is composed of calcium, bacteria and other organic matter in the mouth.

While proper brushing and flossing can remove plaque, tartar can only be removed with dental cleaning and procedures. Poor oral hygiene, especially improper brushing or flossing, is the leading cause of tartar build-up.

What does a Calculus Bridge look like?

Unlike plaque, a buildup of tartar is visible and can vary in color depending on where it is in relation to the gums. Calculus is a denser, clay-like substance, usually yellow above the gums and dark brown, green, or black below the gums.

A tartar bridge forms when tartar covers several teeth in a row and begins to fill in the gaps between them. Individual cases vary, but a tartar bridge usually starts as a dark discoloration on the teeth along the gumline before spreading.

Side Effects of a Calculus Bridge

Tartar in the mouth has a clear and serious impact on the health of teeth and gums. Especially if left untreated, tartar bridges lead to several dental conditions, including the following.


Chronic bad breath, known as halitosis, is a common sign of calculus formation. Worse than typical cases of “morning breath” or after eating certain foods, brushing your teeth, using mouthwash, or mints doesn’t help halitosis. Halitosis can lead to periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease.

Gum disease

The most common side effect of tartar buildup is gingivitis, a bacterial infection of the gums. Early gum disease is called gingivitis. It is mainly inflammation of the tissues that causes bleeding, red or swollen gums. You can reverse early-stage gum disease with proper dental care and cleaning.

In periodontitis, the more advanced stages of periodontitis, pockets form between the teeth and gums, which can become infected. If left untreated, it can lead to loose or lost teeth and damage to tissue and the jawbone.

A common problem

Gum disease is common, with 47.2% of U.S. adults over the age of 30 experiencing periodontal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in the United States.

Receding gums

When tartar bridges lead to periodontitis, a common complication is receding gums. The progression of the bacterial infection destroys connective tissue, leading to bone loss and exposing the roots of teeth. Receding gums form gaps between teeth and gums that can become places for plaque and tartar to build up.

Tooth decay

The bacteria in tartar feed on the sugars in the mouth and emit acids as a by-product. This creates an acidic environment that breaks down your tooth enamel, leading to cavities (known clinically as dental caries). If allowed to continue, cavities cause pain, tenderness, infection and tooth loss.

Removing and Preventing Calculus Bridge

Once a tartar bridge is formed, only a dentist can remove it. However, there is a lot you can do to prevent plaque from becoming a problem. Here is an overview of the treatment and prevention options for tartar bridges.

Remove Calculus Bridge

Dentists or hygienists use special tools and procedures to scrape tartar off the teeth and prevent further buildup. There are several standard treatments, including:

  • Tooth scale: Part of routine dental cleaning is tartar removal, in which the dentist uses specialized tools to scrape tartar deposits from the crowns of teeth.
  • Polishing: After removing the tartar, the dentist will clean and smooth the tooth surfaces, which can prevent the build-up of bacteria. Polishing teeth not only improves appearance, it also has therapeutic value.
  • Deep cleaning: Also known as scaling and root planing, the dentist or hygienist numbs your gums and scrapes away tartar from below the gumline. Sometimes they need to remove the deposits at the root of the tooth and smooth out the area. This prevents bacteria from returning.

Since tartar removal is more than regular cleaning and can involve work below the gumline, it can cause pain or discomfort.

Preventing a calculus bridge?

Maintaining good oral health prevents plaque from turning into tartar, which means:

  • Good brushing: Brush at least twice a day, for at least two minutes at a time (30 seconds for each surface, top front, top back, bottom front and bottom back). Using circular motions, approach the teeth at a 45-degree angle, brushing gently along the gumline. Replace toothbrushes every two to three months; electric toothbrushes are particularly effective.
  • Flossing daily: Floss between teeth once a day and remove any stuck food particles. Some people opt for threaded or water flossers.
  • Healthy Habits: Smoking or using smokeless tobacco can have serious consequences for oral health, so consider quitting. Alcohol can also affect gum health and should be used in moderation, if at all.
  • Regular checks: It is recommended to have a dental cleaning done in the office at least once or twice a year. If you have periodontitis, you may need more frequent visits. The dentist can also assess whether cavities or other problems are developing.


A tartar bridge is an overgrowth of tartar, or tartar, across multiple teeth. Plaque in the mouth, if not removed, can form into a thicker, darker substance on the teeth and along the gums. Excessive tartar in the mouth causes gum disease, tooth decay, chronic bad breath or halitosis.

Dental procedures, such as scaling and root planing, can remove the tartar. In addition to regular checkups, good oral hygiene prevents the formation of dental bridges.

A word from Verywell

Not only can a tartar bridge be unsightly and make you feel insecure, but it can also have a significant impact on the health of your teeth. Maintaining brushing, flossing, and other positive oral hygiene habits is essential. If you see tartar buildup in your mouth, contact your dentist. The sooner you fix your dental problem, the healthier you will be.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you remove a calculus bridge?

    Brushing, flossing, or other home treatments cannot remove a tartar bridge. Dental cleanings include physical scraping and removal of buildup (scaling), followed by polishing the teeth. If necessary, tartar under the gums can also be scraped away while the gums are numbed. Your dentist or hygienist can remove deposits at the root of teeth and use special instruments to smooth them out, a procedure called root planing.

  • How bad is tartar for your teeth?

    If left untreated, tartar can have serious consequences for the health of your teeth. Tartar can lead to tooth decay, which causes cavities and tooth loss. It is also a major cause of gum disease, which in its advanced form can further affect tooth stability and health.

  • Is removing tartar painful?

    The scaling to scrape off tartar in a routine cleaning is usually not painful, and a numbing agent is usually not necessary. However, sometimes local anesthetic is used if there is a buildup around the gums. You can expect tenderness and discomfort after the procedure. Over-the-counter pain relievers usually solve the problem.

  • How long does it take for the calculus to form?

    It depends on the individual case and factors such as genetics, level of oral hygiene and lifestyle factors. Studies have shown that plaque hardens and turns into tartar within 14 days. However, it can form as quickly as within a day, and most people see deposits by the 12th day.

  • Can I remove calculus myself?

    The only way to get rid of tartar is to have it professionally removed. Flossing, brushing thoroughly, and using mouthwash or other products will not work. Never try to use dental tools on your teeth, as you are likely doing more harm than good. You can easily damage the gums, enamel of your teeth and other structures. There is also a higher risk of infection.

  • Does tartar smell?

    Tartar can have a distinct odor due to the combination of bacteria, mineral material from your teeth, and other compounds in your mouth. Halitosis, a chronic form of bad breath that doesn’t go away with brushing or mints, is a typical result of excess tartar. Getting rid of this substance and treating problems like gum disease can treat this condition.

  • How much does tartar removal cost?

    The cost will depend on the degree of removal required and your dental plan. Without insurance, routine cleaning and polishing costs range from $75 to $200. If the tartar is significant or spreads below the gumline, additional procedures, such as a thorough cleaning, can add to that total.

Causes, Side Effects, Risks, Prevention

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