The relationship between plaque, calculus and gum disease
Dental plaque is unavoidable; our oral hygiene habits help to manage the extent of calculus and gingivitis. The normal bacteria in our mouth produce and live in the sticky clear film that coats our teeth within just a few hours after a visit to the dentist. These bacteria live on the debris from food and drinks – especially the sticky and sweet ones! And their activity produces acids that can erode tooth enamel or irritate the gums.
Plaque is easily removed with thorough and regular brushing and flossing. When plaque is left, it reacts with minerals in saliva and hardens into the deposit known as tartar or calculus. The rough surface of calculus is particularly prone to collecting plaque – and in areas that don’t receive adequate brushing, calculus will continue to build.
From plaque to calculus and gingivitis
Calculus accumulates as a white to yellowish substance around the gumline of the tooth – but can also extend into the groove between the tooth and the gum, and below the visible gum line. The growth of hard calculus deposits at the gum line together with the acids contained in constantly accumulating plaque irritate the soft gum tissue. This is the beginning of gum disease. Calculus can only be removed by a dental professional, and for most it is recommended every 6 months. Some people are more prone to developing tartar than others and may be advised to have 3 -4 cleans a year to keep their gums in optimal health.
From calculus to gingivitis
Gum disease attacks the foundations of the tooth: its roots, the bone and gums that hold it in place. When enough damage is done, the tooth becomes loose.
Gum disease – what to watch for
The first stage is inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis.
- The gums look dark red or dusky
- They appear puffy and may be tender
- They bleed easily when brushing and flossing – or even biting an apple?
- Breath may smell
At this stage, gum disease responds well to treatment and improving oral hygiene habits.
If untreated, the second stage develops. Known as periodontitis, it is characterised by gum recession and perhaps pockets where the gums have loosened from the tooth. As calculus and inflammation push further down the root, the fibres attaching the tooth to its socket is destroyed and the tooth loosens. Rigorous oral hygiene and regular deep cleaning may do much to halt the disease, but some tooth loosening can be irreversible.