February 1, 2023

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Medically Reviewed
Dental calculus, commonly known as tartar, affects most adults and tends to worsen with age. When not properly removed, it can progress into a calculus bridge, which increases your risk of developing serious gum infections, disease or permanent bone loss around the teeth.
Roughly 70% of adults age 65 and older have periodontal disease—a condition that’s largely attributed to the presence of calculus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1].
Fortunately, both calculus and calculus bridges are preventable. This article explains what exactly a calculus bridge is, including causes, side effects, treatment options and prevention methods.
When dental plaque—a sticky film that develops on teeth due activities like eating and drinking—isn’t properly brushed and flossed away, it can combine with minerals in your saliva and eventually turn into calculus.
While plaque is easily removed with daily oral hygiene practices, calculus (or tartar, as it’s often called) is a hard substance that’s almost impossible to remove with brushing alone.
“A calculus bridge occurs when tartar or calculus builds up so much that it connects with the adjacent teeth and forms a solid ‘bridge’ of deposits,” explains Gary Schlotterer, D.D.S., founder of Digital Dentistry at Southpoint in Durham, North Carolina.
It often looks like “a border of brown or tan along the edge of your teeth by your gum line,” notes Gary Silverstrom, D.D.S., dentistry practitioner of the Silverstrom Group in Livingston, New Jersey. In more severe cases, a calculus bridge may extend down into the gum line or further up along the surface of the teeth, he adds.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing a calculus bridge, including:
Additionally, individuals (especially those who are older) taking certain medications such as those for high blood pressure, depression and bladder-control issues may find themselves dealing with a specific side effect known as dry mouth. Because saliva is a key component to overall oral health, individuals living with dry mouth may be more at risk for issues like calculus build-up and tooth decay.
Because calculus cannot be removed by brushing alone, allowing too much time between dental visits can also increase the risk of a calculus bridge. The more opportunity your dentist has to clean your teeth, the less calculus you will have. The less calculus you have, the less possibility there is for a calculus bridge to form.
Some degree of calculus buildup is normal and common, notes David Chen, D.D.S., dentist at Jackson Ave Dental in Long Island City, New York. However, an untreated calculus bridge can lead to side effects and the development of more serious conditions. “The most concerning side effect of a calculus bridge is its ability to induce gum disease,” adds Dr. Chen.
According to Dr. Chen, other potential adverse effects of a calculus bridge include:
Only a licensed dental hygienist or dentist can remove a calculus bridge once it has formed.
“The process for removing mild calculus buildup is called a teeth cleaning, but a calculus bridge requires more than that,” explains Dr. Chen. Due to the fact that calculus can grow below the gum line, removing it requires a deeper cleaning, he says.
One (or both) of the following methods are often used to remove a calculus bridge:
Depending on the severity of the calculus bridge, more than one session with your dentist may be needed to remove it. However, it’s important to complete the removal process to prevent the calculus buildup from worsening.
A calculus bridge is preventable, but once it forms, it can be difficult to remove. Therefore, it’s crucial to follow proper oral hygiene practices to prevent a calculus bridge from forming in the first place.
“Dental hygiene is key when it comes to preventing the buildup of calculus and the formation of a calculus bridge,” says Dr. Silverstrom. “Since dental calculus can start building up within just a few days of the formation of plaque, you want to be vigilant about removing plaque before it gets to that point.”
According to the American Dental Association, there are steps you can take to reduce plaque and calculus buildup, including:
Regular visits to your dentist can help prevent the formation of calculus. When you maintain healthy oral hygiene habits and complete regular dental cleanings, tarter is less likely to form. However, if you start to notice calculus formation on your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
“You should see a dentist every six months to remove any calculus that may have formed. Despite how diligent you may be with your brushing and flossing, there will always be a nook or cranny that you may have missed,” advises Dr. Chen.
“With that being said, even if some calculus forms, as long as you keep up with your oral hygiene, you can significantly slow the bridge formation until you’re due to see your dentist,” he adds.
While a calculus bridge can lead to serious oral health problems, it’s preventable with proper oral hygiene. Brush and floss regularly, see your dentist for cleanings and check-ups, and limit sugary snacks and drinks when you can. If you do notice calculus forming on your teeth (and you might since it’s very common), consult your dental team about appropriate next steps.
Consult a Dentist
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Lindsay Modglin is a nurse and professional writer who regularly writes about complex medical topics, as well as travel and the great outdoors. She holds a professional certificate in scientific writing from Stanford University School of Medicine and has contributed to many major publications including Insider and Verywell. As a passionate advocate for science-based content, she loves writing captivating material that supports scientific research and education. In her spare time, you can often find her exploring nature with her husband and three children.
Dr. Willardsen established True Dentistry in Las Vegas, as well as the Esthetic Alliance, a cosmetic dental laboratory focused on full mouth reconstruction. He is a certified biomimetic dentistry instructor with the Alleman-Deliperi Centers. Dr. Willardsen also co-founded Occlusion Connections, a center for dental occlusal studies. He has been invited to speak and present to other doctors on biomimetic and cosmetic dentistry. For over 10 years, Dr. Willardsen has traveled nationally and internationally to share the latest information in dental materials and techniques. He’s been the invited dental expert on numerous television shows and news outlets, including Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, HuffPost, VH1, New Beauty and others. In addition, he is a featured dental expert on the hit television show “The Doctors.” His articles have been featured in professional and consumer magazines, such as Aesthetic Dentistry, Dental Economics, Dental Products Report, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, New Beauty and more.


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