Teeth Tartar Removal Cost - Causes, Prevention, Treatment

senior man getting teeth tartar cleaning treatment

Price/Cost table

TreatmentPrice/Cost $SGD
Tartar cleaning cost$70 - $160 before GST
Consultation cost$20 - $40
Scaling and polishing costs at private dental clinicsStarting from $70
Scaling and polishing at polyclinics$15 - $30

It is estimated that at least 68% of adults have dental tartar or dental calculus 1. This post will break down what’s causing it, how to prevent it, and everything in between. A lot of people downplay the risk that tartar build-up poses on the teeth. But unless you stay on top of it, the hard deposits could cause serious long-term issues and even tooth loss. Let’s see what it is about.

What is Teeth Tartar?

To explain what tartar, or dental calculus, is and how it forms, we have to start with the fact that a lot of bacteria take shelter in your mouth ever since you are born. Yes, your mouth is infested with microorganisms, good and bad, which constantly interact with the foods and drinks you ingest. It’s referred to as the oral microbiome, oral microflora, or oral microbiota 2. The good bacteria help prevent tooth decay 3, while the bad ones do quite the opposite actually - they can cause gum disease and cavities.

When you eat certain foods such as starches and sugar, the bacteria in your mouth cavity release acids to help break down said foods. This way everything mixes together and can only be removed by brushing. If you leave it on long enough, it binds together into a yellow or colourless sticky film that is often hard to see. This is the so-called dental plaque. Now, plaque is softer than tartar and oftentimes it can be brushed off using more perseverance and the right technique. However, sometimes this is not efficient and you need to get a dental professional service for this.

If dental plaque lingers onto your teeth undisturbed, it will eventually harden into what’s known as tartar or dental calculus. If it builds up above the gum line, it can cause gum disease and permanent damage to your teeth. Gingivitis is the mildest form and it’s possible to turn the clock back on it with the right dental care but if you let it grow into periodontitis, there is no going back.

The latter disease is an infection of the gums that damages them and causes them to pull away from the teeth. Left out of control, it begins to affect the bone supporting your pearly whites, which will result in tooth loss.

If you want none of these issues, it is super important that you stick to your dental cleanings and address all problems that come your way in due time.

Types of Dental Calculus

  • Above the gum line (supragingival). When tartar is present above the gum line, you can see a yellowish substance on the teeth that is different from the rest of the tooth surface. It is easy to access.
  • Below the gum line (subgingival). Tartar deposits of this kind are hidden below the gums and can have a direct impact on your health if left to linger on for too long. They are more stubborn and more difficult to remove because of poor visibility. Also, the dentist has to make an extra effort to reach the areas without hurting the gums.

What Causes Tartar on Teeth?

You already know that tartar is mainly caused by a lack of good dental hygiene and plaque buildup. But are there other factors at play? Truth be told, some people are more prone than others to developing huge amounts of dental plaque buildup in a short period of time which then calcify and turn into tartar. They are to be seen more frequently at the dentist’s.

Some studies suggest that sleeping with your mouth open can speed up tartar accumulation alongside tooth decay. When you breathe through the mouth, the amount of saliva - your natural defence against cavities and bad bacteria - decreases dramatically. A dry, open mouth is a captor of all things nasty.

Other things that can make you vulnerable to tartar formation, even if you are adamant about dental care, are certain medications and therapies. This applies to cavities too.

How to Remove Teeth Tartar

dentist examining teeth tartar buildup on patient

The only way to deal with dental tartar is to have it removed by a dentist or dental hygienist. It is not something you can handle yourself. The process requires the use of special tools that scale the calculus off the teeth. There is no way to brush it away with a toothbrush or home remedies so don’t get fooled by the magic cures offered online. You need to book a service called scaling and polishing, or dental cleaning.

Professional dental cleaning is a broad procedure that removes stains, dental plaque, and tartar buildup on teeth. It can help prevent cavities. At the end of the process, the specialist applies gritty toothpaste or fluoride toothpaste. The gritty toothpaste is known to act as a protective barrier and enhance the remineralisation of the teeth. This in turn helps to strengthen the teeth and ward off decay. On a side note, this procedure is a bit different from deep cleaning which involves cleaning the roots as well.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Tartar Removed?

In Singapore, scaling and polishing vary from dentist to dentist depending on their experience and the condition of your teeth. It costs anywhere between S$80 to S$150 before GST. Keep in mind that initial consultation fees will add to the bill. Part of the amount may be claimed from MediSave but that is up for debate between you and the specialist you choose.

How to Prevent Dental Tartar from Building up

It proves far cheaper to prevent problems from happening than to try to address them as they occur. A proactive approach goes a long way. In that regard, what are the things you can do to avoid tartar accumulation? Here are some tips to get you on the right track:

  • Stay away from sugary foods and simple carbohydrates. If you do consume any of these, don’t let them sit on your pearly whites for too long. Make sure to brush as soon as you can.
  • Invest in an electric toothbrush. It is proven that the latter is much more effective in plaque removal than manual models. By keeping dental plaque at bay, you can wave dental tartar goodbye.
  • Avoid smoking. Without the shadow of a doubt, nicotine has a negative impact on your health. It can lead to lung disease, trigger heartburn and other stomach issues, slow down healing, and even cause blood clots. Furthermore, tobacco products make you more vulnerable to tooth decay, plaque buildup, and periodontal disease.
  • Choose antiplaque mouthwash and tartar-control toothpaste. It is pretty self-explanatory what antiplaque mouthwashes do. Adding this step to your dental care will decrease the likelihood of you developing tartar. The least it can do is slow down the process so you don’t have to spend on dental cleanings every six months or so. The same applies to tartar-control toothpaste. Of course, it's more important to brush your teeth regularly. The choice of product is nothing but a bonus.
  • Brush and floss twice a day. It goes without saying that proper brushing is the first line of defence against cavities and dental calculus. You need to effectively remove food debris from your teeth to curb bad bacteria and never give them the chance to take over. If you are not sure what you are doing, ask your dentist for further guidance. They will show you the best brushing techniques to use and especially on those hard-to-reach areas.
  • Don’t skip dental visits. It may be tempting to postpone those dental appointments for as long as you can but you aren’t doing yourself a favour that way. Instead, you are securing yourself more issues with your teeth which will require multiple sessions to get fixed and a bigger budget at that. The dental professional is your friend. Together you can work to make your teeth stronger, whiter, and healthier, whether by filling cavities or through professional cleaning, tooth surgery, and other complex treatments.

Does Modern Calculus Differ from Prehistoric Calculus?

If you think that dental calculus is an issue with modern civilization due to processed foods, antibiotic use, and post-industrial lifestyle, you are wrong. Our predecessors struggled with some form of calculus in the past but, alas, they couldn’t avail of dental cleaning services. Yes, that’s right. Even though their diet consisted mostly of fruit and vegetables followed by the occasional piece of raw meat, the cavemen were still susceptible to gum disease. And this continued to happen, as centuries passed by.

Thanks to modern studies, scientists could find out about the ancient microbiome and how it has evolved to the oral microbiome we know today. It appears that tartar keeps a long-term record of the human microbiomes and could tell us a lot about our ancestors.

According to a study titled "Quantitative metaproteomics of medieval dental calculus reveals individual oral health status" published by Nature 4, calculus, being able to stand the test of time, can give us an insight into one’s diet, oral disease, if any, as well as bacterial, viral, and fungal presence. It also preserves DNA and human proteins from the host. This can even shed light on the potential pathogenic species that the host has interacted with. As a whole, dental calculus or tartar seems to give off a lot about human beings without us being aware of it.

For example, bioarchaeological analysis of medieval samples has identified that the medieval diet was abundant in oat and milk, as these were the only dietary proteins preserved within the dental calculus tested. This is direct evidence of milk consumption.

In a different study, historic calculus samples were compared to modern calculus samples to find out if there is any difference between microbial profiles 5. There was one between plaque and historic calculus but there was none between the calculus that we are experiencing now and the calculus that our ancestors had. 

With the help of tartar samples, experts could also examine the link between human lifestyle, diet, and health, as well as the causes of historic pandemics. And finally, healthy site samples revealed that when someone has tartar, in the absence of periodontal disease, there is a robust immune response. However, when gum disease takes over, a sustained inflammatory response is observed.


question mark made from toothpaste

And now, let’s answer some more burning questions that many patients have but may be reluctant to ask.

Is teeth tartar removal painful?

No. Scaling and polishing is not supposed to be painful if you have healthy gums. But if your gums are inflamed or you’ve got plenty of tartar to remove, the procedure may be a bit too much to handle. Don’t worry. In this day and age, local anaesthesia can be used to numb the site so that you are comfortable all the way through the treatment. Always ask your dental professional about your options so you can relax.

How long does it take to remove tartar from teeth?

It depends on the amount of tartar. Normally, it takes between 10 to 40 minutes (for severe cases) to finish off the dental cleaning process. If there is too much dental plaque and tartar buildup to deal with, the professional cleaning procedure may be divided into two sessions in which case the patient will be asked to return another day to complete the treatment. This will allow a few days in between during which the mouth can heal.

Is it OK to scrape tartar off your teeth?

No. In this way, you can damage the tooth enamel. See, dentists spend years training how to remove tartar effectively without harming your pearly whites. Not to mention, they use quality dental equipment that is specifically designed for the job. You may find dental plaque scrapers at drugstores claiming they can remove teeth tartar but that doesn’t mean they will do the trick. Even if you do manage to get rid of some of it, without professional training, you risk doing irreversible damage to your gums as well. You had better leave this to the experts who will opt for a professional dental scaler.

Can gums grow back after tartar removal?

If you suffer from receding gums due to periodontal disease, you need to understand that this is irreversible. Receding gums will not grow back no matter how many times you undergo dental cleaning. However, you still need to keep your dental plaque and tartar in check because they can cause your gums to continue to recede. Once this happens, bad breath will be the last problem you can think about. You can lose your teeth.

How long does tartar take to form?

Unfortunately, a short period of 48 hours is enough for dental plaque on the teeth to become tartar. Sometimes it’s difficult to see it with untrained eyes, especially on the back teeth. But if you let the sticky film build up for a long time, it will begin to show on your front teeth alongside more plaque, making them appear nasty. Plus, bad breath will plague you. A dental hygienist or another dental professional can rid you of it.