Updated: Jun 7
Ever wonder why you're getting calcium deposits on your teeth and whether or not it is harmful? Should you do anything about it or is it normal? Let's review all of the causes, treatments and prevention.
Table of contents:
Why is there calcium buildup on your teeth?
Having deposits of calcium on your teeth is a perfectly normal phenomenon because your teeth are made of it. In fact, your enamel is composed of over 90% of hydroxyapatite, which is a mineral that is composed of a lot of calcium. The chemical structure is written as Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2 and also sometimes known alternatively as calcium apatite.
Although when we refer to the buildup of calcium on the teeth, we are actually talking about external deposits of it on the tooth surface. There is a lot of calcium in our saliva, which comes from our diet. The bacteria in our mouth form biofilms called plaque when they come together. The plaque can incorporate the calcium in our saliva and become a hardened substance called tartar or calculus. Tartar is a very hard and calcified substance that you cannot brush off.
Therefore, if we stopped consuming foods that are rich in calcium, we may not get these deposits on our teeth but the downside is that our teeth would also be weaker. Our long island city dentists do not recommend decreasing calcium intake to avoid buildup.
What does calcium deposits on teeth look like?
The deposits on the surface of our teeth are basically what we call tartar and they look like a hardened version of plaque. The appearance of it tends to be white to yellow in color but they can also pick up staining from foods and also tobacco as well.
The photo above depicts what the calculus looks like on teeth before and after removal. This particular picture shows the tartar picking up some brown staining so the color looks like a mix of white-yellow-brown. As you can see from removing the calcium deposits, the color of the teeth returns back to normal.
Sometimes the buildup can pick up some very severe and unsightly stains such as from cigarette use. The tar in the tobacco can turn the calculus into black tartar. Once this happens, you cannot brush it off and you will require a dental professional such as a hygienist to get rid of it for you.
If the color of your teeth changes after the dental cleaning, then it was a sign that you had a lot of buildup and deposits. It also means that you are probably more prone to getting them so you should be diligent with your 6 month check ups.
What about hypocalcification?
To reiterate, the buildup of calcium is basically another name for tartar but what is NOT deposits of calcium is the condition called hypocalcification. When you have hypocalcification you actually have a reduced amount of calcium mineralization in your teeth. This means that there is less calcium buildup on your teeth when you have this condition.
What causes it?
The most common cause of the hypocalcification is poor oral hygiene but it could also be due to genetic disorders such as amelogenesis imperfecta.
Inadequate oral hygiene. If you're not brushing and flossing your teeth enough, the enamel could start demineralizing, which means that it will start losing calcium. You can stop and reverse the process by eating calcium rich foods and using a fluoride toothpaste. That should get the remineralizing process started.
Amelogenesis imperfecta. This is a genetic disorder which causes enamel defects and you could end up with insufficient calcium in your teeth because of it.
What it looks like:
This condition is often described as having white spots on your teeth. When the enamel loses calcium, it will look like you have chalky white spots that are very opaque on the enamel.
On the opposite end of the spectrum there is a condition called hypercalcification, which means you have an excess amount of calcium deposits on your teeth. This condition would signify that you do indeed have extra deposits.
What causes it?
This may happen if you consume an excessive amount of calcium but there shouldn't be any visual changes in the enamel's appearance because of it. The vast majority of the population are typically calcium deficient.
Once again, hypocalcification means that you do not have more deposits, only hypercalcification would have extra buildup. A lot of oral health information sources get these two terms mixed up.
How to get rid of calcium deposits on teeth
The only way to get rid of the excess deposits of calcium is by having a dental professional remove them. Either your dentist or your dental hygienist can get rid of the buildup for you by using an ultrasonic scaler and also hand scalers. These are very sharp stainless steel tools that can cut into the tartar in order to facilitate its removal.
This treatment is usually done at the dental office during your 6 month check up visit. The procedure is called a dental cleaning because your dentist is literally cleaning the deposits off of your teeth. A regular teeth cleaning is usually sufficient for most of the calculus buildup but if you have very severe amounts of deposit that reach beneath the gums, you may need a deep cleaning.
A deep dental cleaning involves everything that a normal one does but with the addition of cleaning below the gum line. The process of removing tartar from below the gums is called scaling and root planing. The procedure may be uncomfortable for some people so you may need local anesthesia to numb the gums. A few doses of Novocaine should be sufficient in keeping you comfortable for the procedure.
Removal at home
Unfortunately you cannot remove the calcium buildup at home because it is completely calcified and too hard to get rid of by just brushing. Once you see it present on your teeth, you need to go see your dentist for them to treat it. Fortunately what you can do is prevent it from happening in the first place.
What happens if you leave it untreated?
It would be disastrous for you to leave these white calcium spots untreated because they can either lead to tooth decay or result in gum disease.
Tooth decay. The white spots are weakened parts of the enamel that are deficient in calcium. This means that the bacteria that cause cavities have an easier time to cause one. You need to strengthen your teeth by re-enforcing your enamel simply by using a fluoridated toothpaste.
Gum disease. The tartar build up sitting next to your gums is considered a foreign body. Your immune system sees it as a threat so it tries to eliminate it by making your gums swell up. Unfortunately because of the buildup's calcified nature, your body is unable to get rid of it and what ultimately happen is that the inflammation spreads from the gums to the bone. Once this happens you start losing bone and we call this condition periodontitis, which is advanced gum disease. The bone loss is permanent and irreversible so if you lose enough of it, your teeth will get loose and fall out. We don't want that do we?
Preventing white calcium spots on teeth at home
Prevention is the only thing you can do to not get any calcium white spots because once it hardens into calculus, you're unable to get rid of it. Therefore the most important thing you can do is to maintain a strict oral hygiene regime because what you can remove is the soft plaque before it turns into tartar. The plaque is soft enough where it'll easily brush off with light gentle pressure from the toothbrush bristles.
As long as you remove all of the plaque before you go to bed, there shouldn't be an opportunity for the bacteria to from these hard calcified deposits. So just remember, brush for at least 2 minutes twice a day and floss before you sleep. It would also be helpful if you remembered to use a mouth rinse as well.
Having calcium in your teeth is normal because that's what teeth are made out of but having buildup on your tooth surface is not. The surface deposits are called tartar and it can pick up a lot of unsightly staining. If you leave it untreated, it may cause gum inflammation and lead to gingivitis or even periodontitis.
Therefore if you want to keep not only your teeth healthy but also your gums healthy, you should maintain a strict oral hygiene routine and also get your biannual teeth cleanings.
This article is brought to you by your favorite dentist in long island city, Dr David Chen.