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Home > Daily Dental Care > Your Dentist Visit > A Guide to Dental Terms
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A Guide to Dental Terms

An easy-to-understand guide of dental terms.

Abrasion - Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing teeth technique or bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth).

Abscess - An infection of a tooth, soft tissue or bone.

Abutment - tooth or teeth that support a fixed or removable tooth bridge.

Adhesive Dentistry - Contemporary term for dental restorations that involve "bonding" of composite resin or porcelain fillings to natural teeth.

Air Abrasion - Removal of tooth structure by blasting a tooth with air and abrasive, a relatively new technology that may avoid the need for anesthetic.

Allergy - Unfavorable systemic response to a foreign substance or drug.

Alveolar Bone - The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth.

Amalgam - A most common filling material, also known as silver fillings, containing mercury (approximately 50%), silver, tin, copper and zinc.

Analgesia - A state of pain relief or an agent that lessens pain.

Anesthesia - Partial or complete elimination of pain sensation. Numbing a tooth is an example of local anesthesia; general anesthesia produces partial or complete unconsciousness.

Anterior Teeth - The six upper or six lower front teeth.

Antibiotic - A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria

ANUG - An acronym for Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis, commonly known as trench mouth or Vincent's disease, which can be aggravated by stress and/or smoking.

Apex - The tip of the root of a tooth.

Apicoectomy - Surgical removal of the root tip to treat a dead tooth.

Arch - Describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth.

Attrition - Loss of structure due to natural wear.

Base - Cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the pulp (nerve chamber).

Bicuspid or pre-molar - Transitional teeth behind the cuspids.

Bifurcation (trifurcation) - Juncture of two (three) roots in posterior teeth.

Biopsy - Removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination.

Bite - Relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure (occlusion).

Bite wings - Caries (decay) detection devices used during x-rays.

Black hairy tongue - Elongated papillae on the tongue, promoting the growth of microorganisms.

Bleaching - Chemical or laser dental treatment of natural teeth for whitening effect.

Block Injection - Anesthesia of a nerve trunk that covers a large area of the jaw. A mandibular block injection produce numbness of the lower jaw, teeth, half the tongue.

Bonding - Adhesive dental restoration technique. A tooth-colored composite resin to repair and/or change the color or shape of a tooth.

Bone Resorption - Decrease in bone supporting the roots of teeth, which is a common result of periodontal gum disease.

Braces - Devices used by orthodontists to gradually reposition teeth to a more favorable alignment.

Bridge - Stationary dental prosthesis (appliance) fixed to teeth adjacent to a space. A dental bridge replaces one or more missing teeth, cemented or bonded, to supporting teeth or implants adjacent to the space.

Bruxism - Grinding or gnashing of the teeth, most commonly while the patient is asleep.

Bruxomania - Persistent nervous grinding of the teeth while the patient is awake.

Calcium - Chemical element needed for healthy teeth, bones and nerves.

Calculus - Hard residue, commonly known as tarter that forms on teeth due to inadequate plaque control. Calculus teeth often are stained yellow or brown.

Canker Sore - Mouth sore that appears whitish, often has a red halo. A canker sore usually has ten to fourteen day duration.

Cantilever Bridge - Fixed bridge that attaches to adjacent teeth only on one end.

Cap - Common term for dental crown.

Caries - Tooth decay or "cavities."

Cast or model - Reproduction of structures made by pouring plaster or stone into a mold.

Cavitron - Dental tool that uses high frequency ultrasonic waves to clean teeth.

Cellulites - Soft tissue infection causing extensive hard swelling, a potentially dangerous condition requiring immediate attention.

Cementum - Hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth.

Chart - Log of dental or medical records.

Clasp - Device that retains a removable partial denture to stationary teeth.

Cleaning - Removal of plaque and calculus (tartar) from teeth, generally above the gum line.

Composite Resin - Material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles that is usually cured with filtered light or chemical catalyst.

Cosmetic (Aesthetic) Dentistry - Treatments performed to enhance appearance (not a recognized specialty).

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) - Artificial procedures employed by a rescuer after cessation of breathing or heart stoppage.

Crossbite - Reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth also known as underbite, as in Class III malocclusion (prognathic jaw).

Crown - The portion of a tooth above the gum line.  Also, a dental restoration covering all or most of the natural tooth.

Curettage - Removal of diseased tissue from a periodontal pocket.

Cusp - Mound on posterior teeth.

Cuspid or Canine - The four "eye teeth".

Cyst - A soft or hard tissue sac filled with fluid.

DDS - Doctor of Dental Surgery equivalent to DMD.

DMD - Doctor of Medical Dentistry equivalent to DDS.

Decay - Destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria.

Deciduous Teeth - Commonly called "baby teeth," the first set of permanent teeth.

Dentin - Inner layer of tooth structure, immediately under the surface enamel.

Dental Implant - A titanium cylinder surgically placed in the bone of the upper or lower jaw to provide support for a dental restoration or appliance.

Dentition - The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.

Denture - Removable (partial or complete) set of artificial teeth.

Denturism - The production of dentures dispensed directly by laboratory technicians.

Diastema - A space between teeth.

Enamel - Hard tissue covering the portion of tooth above the gum line.

Endodontist - A specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber).

Epidemiology - The study of the incidence of disease in a population.

Eruption - The process of teeth protruding through the gums.

Exfoliate - The process of shedding deciduous (baby) teeth.

Exodontias - The practice of dental extractions.

Explorer - A sharp instrument used to detect tooth decay on the surface of teeth.

Extraction - Removal of a tooth.

Eyeteeth - The four upper and lower canine (cuspid) teeth.

Facing - Tooth colored overlay on the visible portion of a crown that is made of acrylic, composite or porcelain.

FAGD - Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry.

Filling - Restoration of lost tooth structure with metal, porcelain or resin materials.

Fistula - The channel that emanates pus from an infection site, which is a gum boil.

Flap surgery - The lifting of gum tissue to expose and clean underlying tooth and bone structures.

Freeway Space - The distance between the upper and lower teeth with the lower jaw in rest position.

Forceps - An instrument used for removal of teeth.

Forensic Dentistry - The practice of gathering legal evidence for body identification or judicial issues.

Fossa - The valley found on the surface of posterior teeth.

Full denture - A removable dental prosthesis (appliance) that replaces all upper or lower teeth.

Full Mouth Reconstruction - Extensive restorations of natural teeth with crowns and or fixed bridges to manage bite problems.

Frenectomy - The removal or reshaping of thin muscle tissue that attaches the upper or lower lips to the gum, or the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

GTR - Guided tissue regeneration-a new technique for replacing bone tissue.

General Anesthesia - Controlled state of unconsciousness, accompanied by a partial or complete loss of pain sensation, protective reflexes, and the ability to respond purposefully to physical stimulation or verbal command.

Geographic Tongue - Benign changes in the usual color and texture of tongue that does not require treatment.

Gingiva - Gum tissue.

Gingivectomy - The surgical removal of gum tissue.

Gingivitis - The inflammation of gum tissue.

Gum Boil - See fistula.

Gum Recession - The exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.

Halitosis - Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin.

Heimlich Maneuver - A techinque employed by rescuer due to the obstruction of victim's airway.

Hematoma -  The swelling of effused blood beneath tissue surface.

HMO or DMO - Health or Dental maintenance organization, which specifies a health or dental care provider that a patient may see.

Hydrogen Peroxide - A disinfecting solution used in dental irrigation procedures or as a mouth rinse.

Hygienist - A dental auxiliary who cleans teeth, provides patient education, administers local anesthetic and nitrous oxide and performs periodontal scaling.

Hyperemia - Increased blood flow that may cause dental sensitivity to temperature and sweets. May precede an abscess.

Impaction - A partial or completely unexposed tooth that is wedged against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue, precluding the eruption process.

Implant - An artificial device that replacing tooth root and may anchor an artificial tooth, bridge or denture.

Impression - A mold made of the teeth and soft tissues.

Incision and Drainage - The surgical incision of a tooth abscess to drain suppuration (pus).

Incisors - The four upper and lower front teeth, excluding the cuspids (canine teeth).

Infiltration - A local anesthetic procedure effective for upper teeth and soft tissue or the placement of anesthetic under the gum, allowing it to seep into bone.

Inlay - An indirect filling made by a dental laboratory that is cemented or bonded into place; or a direct placement of dental composite resin restoration at chairside.

Interproximal - The surfaces of adjoining teeth.

Interocclusal - The space between upper and lower teeth.

Intraoral Camera - A small video camera used to view and magnify oral conditions; from which images may be printed.

Jacket - The crown for a front tooth, usually made of porcelain.

Laminate - A thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth.

Laughing Gas - Nitrous oxide. An odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (dental sedation), and reduces anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.

Lesion - Injury of bodily tissue due to infection, trauma or neoplasm.

Local Anesthesia - Partial or complete elimination of pain sensation, in the immediate vicinity
of its application or injection.

Malocclusion - A "bad bite" or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth.

Managed Care - A program whereby patient-dentist assignment and dentist reimbursement is administered by a separate, external organization.

Mandible - The lower jaw.

Margin - The interface between a restoration and tooth structure.

MAGD - Masters Academy of General Dentistry.

Maryland Bridge - A bridge that is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth and requires minimum tooth reduction.

Mastication - The process of chewing food.

Maxilla - The upper jaw.

Meniscus - The capsular cushion between temporomandibluar joint and glenoid fossa.

Milk teeth - The deciduous (baby) teeth.

Molars - The three back teeth in each dental quadrant used for grinding food.

Moniliasis (thrush) - An opportunistic fungal infection that develops after administering of antibiotic.  Not uncommon in the mouth.

Mucogingival Junction (MGJ) - The meeting of thick, protective gingival tissue around the teeth and the friable mucous lining of the cheeks and lips.

NSAID - A non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often used as a dental analgesic.

Nerve - The tissue that conveys sensation, temperature and position information to the brain.

Nerve (Root) Canal - The internal chamber of a tooth (dental pulp).

Night Guard - An acrylic appliance used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by gnashing or grinding teeth while sleeping.

Nitrous Oxide - A gas used to reduce patient anxiety.

Novocaine - The older brand name for a local anesthetic, currently replaced by safer, more effective agents.

Occlusion - The relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure.

Onlay - A laboratory produced restoration covering one or more cusps of a tooth.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon - A dental specialist who manages the diagnosis and surgical treatment of diseases, injuries and deformities of the mouth and supporting structures. Requires four additional years of training after dental school.

Oral Cavity - The mouth.

Oral Hygiene - The process of maintaining cleanliness of the teeth and related structures.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery - Surgical procedures on the mouth including extractions, removal of cysts or tumors, and repair of fractured jaws.

Oral Pathologist - A dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases.

Orthodontics - A dental specialty that treats misalignment of teeth.

Osseous - Boney

Overbite - A vertical overlap of the front teeth.

Overdenture - A denture that fits over residual roots or dental implants.

Overjet - A horizontal overlap of the front teeth.

Palate - Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth.

Palliative Treatment - The non-invasive relief of irritating conditions.

Parasthesia - A partial loss of sensation that is temporary or permanent.

Partial Denture - A removable dental prosthesis (appliance) that replaces one or more natural teeth.

Pathology - The study of disease.

Periapical (PA) - The region at the end of the roots of teeth.

Periodontal Surgery - The recontouring or aesthetic management of diseased gum and supporting tissue.

Periodontist - A dental specialist who treats the gums and supporting soft and hard tissues in order to retain natural teeth and prepare for surgical placement of dental implants.

Pedodontics or Pediatric dentistry - A dental specialty focusing on treatment of children.

Periodontal Chart - A record measuring the depth of gum pockets around the teeth.

Permanent Teeth - Thirty-two adult teeth (approximately) in a complete dentition.

Pit - A small defect in the tooth enamel, or the junction of four formative lobes of a developing tooth.

Placebo - Inert medications or treatments that produces psychological benefit.

Plaque - A soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth and is composed of bacteria and food debris due to inadequate dental hygiene.

Pontic - A replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance.

Porcelain Crown - An all porcelain restoration that covers the coronal portion of tooth (above the gum line).

Porcelain Fused to Metal (PFM) Crown - A restoration containing metal coping for strength covered by porcelain for appearance.

Porcelain Inlay or Onlay - A tooth-colored restoration made of porcelain and cemented or bonded in place.

Porcelain Veneers - A thin layer of porcelain, fabricated by a laboratory and bonded to a natural tooth to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth or change color and/or shape.

Post - A thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal therapy. A post provides retention for a "coping" which replaces lost tooth structure and retains crowns.

Post-Core - A post and buildup to replace lost tooth structure and retain crowns.

Post-Crown - A single structure that combines post-core and crown.

PPO or PDO - A preferred provider or dental organization which a healthcare dental provider may join offering fee for service treatments at reduced fees.

Prognosis - The anticipated outcome of treatment.

Prophylaxis - Cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of periodontal disease and tooth decay.

Prosthesis - An artificial appliance for the replacement for a body part.

Prosthodontist - A dental specialist skilled in restoring or replacing teeth with fixed or removable prosthesis (appliances) in order to maintain proper occlusion.  May also treat facial deformities with artificial prostheses.

Pulp - The nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue inside a tooth.

Pulp Cap - A medicated covering over a small area of exposed pulp tissue.

Pulp Chamber - The center or innermost portion of the tooth containing the pulp.

Pulpectomy - Complete removal of the pulp (commonly done in children's teeth).

Pulpitis - Inflammation of the pulp, which is common cause of toothache.

Pulpotomy - Partial removal of the pulp tissue.

Pyorrhea - Older term for periodontal (gum) disease.

Reimplantation - The insertion and temporary fixation of partially or completely avulsed teeth resulting from traumatic injury.

Reline - The acrylic restoration of a denture base to compensate for bone loss direct: done at chairside; indirect: in conjunction with a dental laboratory.

Restoration - The replacement of a portion of a damaged tooth.

Retained Root - The partial root structure remaining in the jaw after extraction or fracture of a natural tooth.

Root - The tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw.

Root Canal - The common term for root canal therapy; also the interior space of the tooth

Root Canal Therapy - The process of removing the pulp of a tooth and filling it with an inert material.

Root Resection - The removal of a portion of diseased root structure, but retaining the remaining natural tooth.

Rubber Dam - A soft latex sheet used to isolate one or more teeth from contamination by oral fluids and to keep materials from falling to the back of the throat.

Saliva - A clear lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells and undigested food particles.

Saliva Ejector - A suction tube placed in the mouth to remove saliva.

Salivary Glands - The glands located under the tongue and in cheeks that produce saliva.

Scaling and Root Planning - The meticulous removal of plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces.

Sealants - Thin resin material bonded in the pits and fissures of back teeth for the prevention of decay.

Secondary Dentin - Reparative tooth structure produced by the pulp in response to tooth irritation.

Sequstrum - Loosened spicule of bone pushed to the surface.

Sinusitis - Infammation of the sinus that may mimic dental pain.

Sleep Apnea - The periodic interruption or delay in breathing during sleep.

Space Maintainer - A dental device that holds the space lost through premature loss of baby teeth.

Splint - The connection of two or more teeth so that they function as a stronger single structure.

Supernumerary Tooth - An extra tooth.

Suppuration - A bacterial contamination of tissue exudate.

Tartar - A common term for dental calculus, a hard deposit that adheres to teeth and produces a rough surface that attracts plaque.

TMD (or TMJ Disorder) - Temperomandibular disorder the term given to the condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open or move the jaw.

TMJ - The temporomandibular joint where the lower jaw attaches to the skull.

Third-Party Provider - An insurance company, union or government agency that pays all or a part of cost of dental treatment.

Tooth Bud - The early embryonic structure that becomes a tooth.

Tooth Whitening - A chemical or laser process to lighten the color of teeth.

Topical Anesthetic - An ointment that produces mild anesthesia when applied to tissue surface.

Torus - Common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw.

Transplant - The process of placing a natural tooth in the empty socket of another tooth.

Trauma - Injury caused by external forces, chemical or temperature extremes, or poor tooth alignment.

Trench mouth - Gum disease characterized by severe mouth sores and loss of tissue. See ANUG.

UCR - Usual, Customary and Reasonable fees.

Unerupted Tooth - A tooth that has not pushed through the gum and assumed its correct position in the dental arch.

Veneer - A plastic or porcelain facing bonded directly to a tooth to improve its appearance. See laminate.

Vertical Dimension - The arbitrary space between the upper and lower jaws upon closure that may decrease over time due to wear, shifting or damage to the teeth.

Wisdom Teeth - The third (last) molars that usually erupt between the age of 18-25.

Xerostomia - Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva.

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