Treatments for Dental Plaque and Tartar (Calculus)

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. It is important to always consult a medical professional for any health issues.

Having good oral hygiene is very important to avoid dental and mouth issues. The mouth is filled with bacteria that create a film on the teeth. To manage this film, proper brushing twice per day is needed. However, if you do not brush your teeth regularly every day, the film on your teeth can form plaque, which is an issue that may lead to oral health problems.

When plaque is not removed from the teeth, it can accumulate along the gum line. The bacteria that it has may irritate and infect the gum tissues, which may lead to gingivitis, which is a periodontal condition that marks the start of gum disease. To reverse this condition, improving your oral hygiene and ensuring the plaque is removed are among the best habits. However, if plaque is left untreated, it can harden into tartar and lead to a more severe gum infection. For instance, in its advanced stages, gum disease may damage the supportive tissues of the mouth and lead to loosened or lost teeth.

If you want to learn more about dental plaque and tartar, including how they are treated, you’re in the right place. In this post, we are giving you more information about the treatments for dental plaque and tartar calculus.

What is Dental Plaque?

dental checkup

Dental plaque refers to the sticky substance that is made from leftover food particles and saliva that mix in the mouth. If you do not brush your teeth properly after meals, dental plaque will start to form and build up on the teeth. This can be problematic as plaque contains bacteria, which may contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. [1]

Technically, plaque is colorless, but it gives the teeth a fuzzy feeling. It may also cause some discoloration since it is sticky, and it can cause food particles to stick to the teeth. When the plaque hardens and turns yellow, it becomes tartar, which can make the teeth look yellow and smell bad. Plaque can also form under the gums on tooth roots and collapse the bones that support teeth. But proper oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing, can help get rid of plaque.

Causes of Dental Plaque

woman eating bread

Plaque forms as an outcome of chemical reactions that happen in the mouth. The mouth needs bacteria, carbohydrates, saliva, and food particles in order to create plaque. Carbohydrates are found in most foods, even healthy ones like vegetables and fruits. Food that contains high sugar may have more carbohydrates in them. Therefore, if you eat a lot of candy and cookies, you are more likely to form plaque. [1]

The first step in the formation of plaque happens when the food is broken down into carbohydrates while chewing it. Then, the carbohydrates combine with the natural bacteria in the mouth to create an acid. Acid by itself is already problematic as it can eat away the enamel of the teeth. When it is combined with the left behind food particles and saliva, another chemical reaction happens, and the substance becomes sticky and hard. That substance is plaque, which sticks to the teeth, causing various dental problems when not removed.

Dental Plaque Treatment

It is actually easy to treat dental plaque as it can be removed by brushing and flossing the teeth regularly using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Some dentists also recommend the use of electric toothbrushes as they are more effective at removing plaque. There’s also a study in 2019 that showed that using toothpaste that contains baking soda is a good way to remove plaque. [2]

However, plaque that has hardened into tartar needs to be removed by a dental professional. This can be done when you have a regular checkup and cleaning. Since tartar can build up in hard-to-reach areas in the mouth, it is very important to visit a dentist at least twice a year to keep it under control.

Dental Plaque Prevention

man brushing his teeth

Preventing dental plaque buildup is better than finding ways to remove or treat the condition. The best way to do this is through a good tooth and gum care. Below are some of the ways to prevent dental plaque:

Practice Good Oral Hygiene

In order to keep the bacteria in plaque from causing harm to your teeth and gums, it is very important to clean your teeth every day. Make sure that you brush your teeth two times daily and brush after eating sugary foods. According to the American Dental Association, brushing the teeth twice a day for two minutes is recommended. [2]

In addition to brushing your teeth, flossing is also very important, as plaque may form in the tight spaces between the teeth. Lastly, a vital part of good oral health is visiting your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.

Rinse Your Mouth

Another way to get at the bacteria between the teeth is rinsing. Based on a 2016 review of the medical literature, researchers found that when mouth rinses are used along with brushing and flossing, there is a significant reduction in plaque and gingivitis. [2] It’s because mouth rinses contain different active ingredients that help in reducing plaque buildup and overall gum health.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

Paying attention to your diet can also help prevent plaque from forming. Since it needs carbohydrates to form, the fewer you eat, the better. It is also best to avoid candy, cookies, and other sweet foods as much as possible to prevent the buildup of plaque. However, it is not reasonable to avoid all carbohydrates as the body still needs them. There are lots of healthy foods that contain carbohydrates, such as bread, corn, potatoes, and cereal. This means that some plaque is still going to form when you eat. This is the part where good oral hygiene comes into the picture. Since you can’t totally avoid eating carbohydrates, it is important to ensure that you brush and floss your teeth and rinse your mouth.

What is Dental Tartar?

illustration of dental tartar

Around 68% of adults have dental tartar, which is also called calculus. [3] It is the hard, calcified deposit that forms and coats the teeth and gums. When plaque is not removed regularly, such as through brushing and flossing the teeth, it strengthens within 24 to 72 hours and turns into tartar or calculus. When tartar forms, it is difficult to brush and floss properly, which may lead to oral health issues, such as gum disease, cavities, and bad breath. Tartar is also strongly bonded to the tooth enamel, and it can only be removed by a dentist.

Effect of Tartar on Teeth and Gums

Tartar can make it difficult to brush and floss properly, which may lead to tooth decay and cavities. Any tartar that forms above the gumline could be bad as the bacteria in it could irritate and damage the gums. Over time, it may lead to progressive gum disease.

Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It can be reversed or stopped if you brush or floss your teeth, use an antiseptic mouthwash, and get regular cleanings from your dentist. But if not, it can get worse, and pockets may form between the gums and teeth and get infected by bacteria, which is called periodontitis. There are also some studies that connect bacteria in gum disease to heart disease and other health problems. [4]

How is Dental Tartar Removed?

woman undergoing dental cleaning

Tartar buildup is strongly bonded to the tooth enamel. With this, it can only be removed by a dental professional using the right tools. Tartar removal is done with professional cleaning, debridement, or scaling and root planing.

The American Dental Association recommends getting a regular dental cleaning every six months if you do not have dense deposits and if your teeth have not experienced bone loss or periodontal disease. During a regular checkup and cleaning, your dentist will utilize a scaler to remove any dental plaque, stains, and tartar around the gums and between the teeth. However, for those who have dense calculus on their teeth that interferes with the ability of dentists to perform a comprehensive oral evaluation, a debridement is needed. It is done using ultrasonic instruments and hand tools to fracture tartar and remove it. [3]

If there are pockets between your teeth and gums, or periodontal disease, scaling and root planing might be needed, which is a form of deep cleaning. It is done by utilizing local anesthesia. Plaque and tartar are detached above and below the gum line, all the way down to the bottom of the pocket. Then, the teeth roots are smoothed out to aid the gums in reattaching to the teeth. [3]

Ways to Control Dental Tartar

woman flossing her teeth

To avoid dental issues and costly dental visits, it is best to not let tartar form on your teeth. Below are some of the different ways to control dental tartar:

Brush Your Teeth Regularly

It is very important to brush your teeth two times daily for two minutes at a time. Use a brush with soft bristles that is small enough to fit into your mouth. It is very important to include the hard-to-reach areas behind the teeth and on the rear molars when toothbrushing.

Use an Electric Toothbrush

Based on studies, electric or powered toothbrushes are more effective in getting rid of plaque compared to manual toothbrushes. [4] But no matter what kind of toothbrush you use, you need to make sure that it has the seal of approval from the American Dental Association to ensure safety and quality.

If you are suffering from sensitive teeth, choosing the right toothbrush is important. Find out more by reading our guide to Choosing the Best Toothbrush for Sensitive Teeth.

Use Toothpaste with Fluoride

It is better to pick tartar-control toothpaste that contains fluoride as it can help in repairing enamel damage. There is also some toothpaste that contains triclosan, which can fight the bacteria in plaque and prevent tartar buildup.

Floss Your Teeth

No matter how much your brush your teeth, it is still sometimes not enough, as food debris can be stuck between the teeth. Therefore, flossing is the best way to remove them and keep tartar out of the hard-to-reach spaces between your teeth.

Rinse Your Mouth Daily

Using mouthwash may also help reduce tartar buildup. Mouthwashes can kill the bacteria that cause plaque.

Avoid Smoking

Based on studies, people who smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products are more likely to have tartar. [4] Therefore, if you do not want to have tartar buildup, try to avoid smoking.


Dental plaque and tartar are very common as they develop due to the food that we eat and the bacteria that are naturally in our mouths. That is why proper oral hygiene is very important to avoid the development of other oral health issues. It is essential to be proactive and take good care of your teeth and gums before the problem gets bigger and more costly. Therefore, always see to it that you brush your teeth properly and regularly, floss, and use mouthwash to prevent the buildup of plaque that may lead to the formation of tartar. Regular dental visits are also a must to keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy. We hope this post helped you learn more about the treatments for dental plaque and tartar.


[1] Humana. (2022, November). Dental plaque: What is it and how to remove it from your teeth. Humana. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from

[2] Stanborough, R. J. (2019, August 2). Dental plaque: What it is, what causes it, and how to get rid of I. Healthline. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from

[3] Galina, Y. (2022, December 6). Dental tartar (calculus) – causes, prevention and removal. Golden State. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from

[4] Parker, H. (2020, August 23). Tartar (dental calculus): 6 tips to remove tartar buildup. WebMD. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from