What is Subgingival Tartar and How to Prevent it?
When plaque builds up in your mouth, it can turn into a bigger threat to dental health: calculus.
Also known as tartar, this formation is a calcified mass that sticks to your teeth. Tartar is classified as supragingival or subgingival depending on its location on your teeth. If the subgingival stone is not removed, it can cause gum disease and tooth loss.
How Does Subgingival Tartar Develop?
Experts say that plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth, can become mineralized due to the exchange of calcium and phosphate ions in your saliva. This process is what forms calculus, a hard mass of bacteria that adheres to your tooth surfaces.
Plaque can harden into calculus in as little as four to eight hours. However, the average time for mineralization is 10 to 12 days. Calcification times can vary from person to person, depending on their saliva pH and the amount of calcium and other substances in their saliva. Once calculus forms, it attracts more plaque, which over time can become another layer of calcified material.
Features of Subgingival Tartar
Tartar that builds up on your teeth above the gum line and is easily seen by your dentist or dental hygienist is called a supragingival calculus. However, tartar that forms below the gum line and is therefore not immediately visible is known as subgingival calculus. This type of calculus is usually dark brown to greenish black in color.
According to the Turkish Dental Association, you can remove plaque from your teeth with brushing and flossing, but hard tartar can only be removed with a professional cleaning. Your dentist or dental hygienist uses special tools designed to remove calculus.
Tartar and Periodontal Disease
Tartar, including subgingival calculus, is associated with gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. Typical early-stage gum disease symptoms include red, swollen gums and minor bleeding. Fortunately, the condition can usually be reversed with a good home care routine.
If left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis, where plaque continues to spread below the gum line. When this happens, experts say the gum tissue eventually begins to recede from the teeth, forming pockets that become infected. Pockets deeper than 4 millimeters between the teeth and gums may indicate that you have periodontitis.
When tartar builds up in the pocket, bacteria can destroy surrounding bone and tissue structures. Periodontitis treatment usually includes scaling and root planing to remove all tartar. Periodontal surgery may also be necessary to treat any bone loss.
Preventing Calculus Formation
Because plaque is what forms tartar, calculus prevention involves regularly removing plaque from your teeth to prevent mineralization. That’s why it’s important to maintain a good oral care routine at home. Make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day. Using an antimicrobial mouthwash can also help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. You should also visit your dentist every six months for dental cleaning. During these cleanings, your dentist or dental hygienist will remove any tartar to prevent inflammation and gum disease.
While a subgingival stone can cause serious dental complications, it’s a battle you can win if you keep up with good dental health habits.