Glossary: Calculus

In dentistry, calculus or tartar refers to hardened plaque on the teeth, formed by the presence of saliva, debris, and minerals. Its rough surface provides an ideal medium for bacterial growth, threatening the health of the gums and absorbing unaesthetic stains far more easily than natural teeth. Tartar accumulates in the absence of proper oral care. Once formed, it can be removed only by professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. Tartar causes swelling, bleeding and weakening of gums, and can lead to gum recession. Calculus can even extend into pockets created between the tooth and gums. Tartar comes in two forms. Supragingival (outside the gums) tartar is the visible deposit that forms on the top of the teeth. Subgingival (inside the gums) tartar forms in pockets between teeth and gums. Subgingival tartar is more harmful as it facilitates faster growth of bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria found in pockets around teeth may be linked to cardiovascular disease and pre-term low birth weight babies. Further research is still needed. The best way to prevent the build up of calculus is through twice daily toothbrushing and flossing and biannual dental visits.

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