June 8, 2023

Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.
Edmund Khoo, DDS, is board-certified in orthodontics. He teaches full-time as a clinical associate professor at his alma mater, New York University College of Dentistry, is a diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, and serves on advisory boards for the American Dental Education Association.
When plaque on your teeth gets out of control, it hardens, forming tartar, also known as calculus. A calculus bridge is when this buildup coats multiple teeth and starts to fill in gaps. If untreated, this can lead to serious dental issues, including gum disease and tooth decay.
This article provides an overview of calculus bridges, including their causes, their impact on oral health, and their treatment and prevention.
Pollyana Ventura
Plaque is a bacteria-rich film that forms on the teeth, along the gumline and on such surfaces as fillings and dental crowns. This colorless or pale-yellow substance forms naturally throughout the day as bacteria digest carbohydrates and sugars from the foods and drinks you consume.
If plaque isn't cleaned off of your teeth, it hardens to form calculus. 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 cleanings and procedures. Poor dental hygiene, especially incorrect brushing or flossing, is the primary driver of tartar formation.
Unlike plaque, a calculus buildup is visible and can vary in color depending on where it's located relative to the gumline. Calculus is a denser, claylike substance, typically yellow above the gumline and dark brown, green, or black below the gumline.
A calculus bridge forms when calculus coats multiple teeth in a row and starts to fill in the gaps between them. Individual cases vary but a calculus bridge tends to start as a dark discoloration on the teeth along the gumline before spreading.
Calculus in the mouth has a distinct and severe impact on tooth and gum health. Especially if untreated, calculus bridges lead to various 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, halitosis isn’t cleared up by brushing your teeth, using mouthwash, or mints. Halitosis can lead to periodontal disease, an advanced form of gum disease.
The most common side effect of calculus buildup is gum disease, a bacterial infection of the gums. Early-stage gum disease is called gingivitis. It’s primarily an 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 periodontal disease, pockets form between the teeth and the gums, which can become infected. If untreated, this can lead to loosened or lost teeth and deterioration of tissue and the jawbone.   
Gum disease is prevalent, with 47.2% of American adults over age 30 experiencing periodontal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s one of the leading causes of tooth loss in the United States.
When calculus bridges lead to periodontal disease, 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 sites for plaque and calculus buildup.
The bacteria in calculus feed on the sugars in the mouth, emitting acids as a byproduct. This creates an acidic environment that breaks down your tooth enamel, leading to cavities (clinically known as dental caries). If allowed to progress, cavities cause pain, sensitivity, infection, and tooth loss.     
Once a calculus bridge has formed, only a dental health professional can remove it. However, there’s a lot you can do to stop plaque from becoming a problem. Here’s an overview of treatment and prevention options for calculus bridges.
Dentists or dental hygienists use special tools and procedures to scrape calculus from the teeth and prevent further buildup. There are several standard treatments, including: 
Since removing calculus is more involved than regular cleaning and can include work below the gumline, it may cause soreness or discomfort.
Maintaining good oral health prevents plaque from turning into calculus, which involves:
A calculus bridge is an overgrowth of dental calculus, 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 gumline. Excessive calculus in the mouth causes gum disease, tooth decay, chronic bad breath, or halitosis.
Dental procedures, such as scaling and root planing, can remove the calculus. Along with regular checkups, good oral hygiene prevents calculus bridges from forming.  
Not only can a calculus bridge be unsightly and make you self-conscious, but it can also significantly impact the health of your teeth. Maintaining brushing, flossing, and other positive oral hygiene habits is essential. If you’re seeing buildups of tartar in your mouth, call your dental provider. The sooner you take care of your dental problem, the healthier you’ll be.
Brushing, flossing, or other home treatments cannot remove a calculus bridge. Dental cleanings involve physically scraping off and removing buildups (scaling), followed by tooth polishing. If needed, calculus below the gumline 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 over, a procedure called root planing.

If left untreated, calculus can have a severe impact on the health of your teeth. Tartar can lead to tooth decay, which causes cavities and tooth loss. It’s also a leading cause of gum disease, which, in its advanced form, can further affect tooth stability and health.
The scaling to scrape off calculus in a routine cleaning usually is not painful and a numbing agent typically isn't needed. However, sometimes local anesthetic is used if there’s a buildup around the gumline. You can expect to feel tenderness and discomfort after the procedure. Over-the-counter pain medications typically resolve the problem.
It depends on the individual case and factors such as genetics, level of oral hygiene, and lifestyle factors. Studies have found that plaque hardens and transforms into calculus within 14 days. However, it can form as quickly as within one day, and most people see deposits by the 12th day.
The only way to get rid of calculus is to have it professionally removed. Flossing, thorough brushing, and using mouthwash or other products won’t work. Never try to use dental tools on your teeth, as you’ll likely do more harm than good. You can easily damage gums, the enamel of your teeth, and other structures. There’s also a higher risk of infection.
Dental calculus can have a distinct odor from 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 resolve with brushing or mints, is a typical result of excess calculus. Getting rid of this substance and treating issues like gum disease can treat this condition.

The cost depends on the extent of removal required and your dental plan. Without insurance, routine cleaning and polishing costs range from $75 to $200. If calculus is considerable or spread beneath the gumline, additional procedures, such as deep cleaning, can add to that total.
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