Dental Glossary

Dental Glossary

Our dental glossary is a definition of terms used on our website and in dentistry. Please click on a link below to go directly to that section of the glossary.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

Abfraction
Wear, or notching, at the neck of a tooth at or below the gum line. Often sensitive and often accompanied by gum recession that is thought to be caused by excessive clenching or grinding.
Abrasion
Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing technique, or bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth).
Abscess
A local infection resulting in the collection of pus under pressure. A dental abscess may be caused by severe decay, trauma, or gum disease and will be characterized by swelling and pain. If an abscess ruptures, it can be accompanied by sudden relief from pain and a foul taste in the mouth.
Abutment
When teeth need to be used to support a bridge, they are called abutment teeth.
Adhesive dentistry
Term for dental restorations that involve "bonding" of composite resin or porcelain fillings to natural teeth.
Air abrasion
The removal of tooth structure by blasting a tooth with air and an abrasive, which can prevent 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 silver/mercury mixture which is used for restoring lost tooth structure.
ADA
The American Dental Association.
Anaerobic bacteria
Bacteria that do not need oxygen to grow and multiply.
Anesthesia
The partial or complete elimination of pain sensation. In dentistry we use local and general anesthesia. Numbing a tooth is an example of local anesthesia. Partial or complete unconsciousness is an example of general anesthesia.
Antibiotic
A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria.
Antiseptic
A chemical agent which can be applied to living tissues to destroy germs.
ANUG
An acronym for Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis. ANUG is commonly known as trench mouth or Vincent's disease, which can be aggravated by stress and/or smoking.
Anterior teeth
The front six teeth, which are also referred to as incisors and cuspids.
Apex
The tip of the root of a tooth.
Apicoectomy
A surgical root canal treatment used to seal the tip of a root when conventional root canal treatment has failed or is contraindicated.
Aphthous ulcer
See Canker Sore.
Arch
The upper or lower jaw.
Attrition
The loss of tooth structure due to wear.

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B

Baby bottle tooth decay
Occurs when the baby's teeth are exposed to sugar in the baby's bottle. This is typically seen in a child that is given a bottle at night that contains anything more than water. We recommend only giving a bottle containing water to a child if the child needs a bottle in bed.
Baby teeth
The first set of teeth a human is born with. Also known as deciduous teeth and primary teeth.
Bacterial endocarditis
An infection of the valve and muscle tissue inside the heart. Patients with certain conditions are prone to this type of infection and must premedicate with prescribed antibiotics prior to most dental procedures.
Base
Cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the pulp and restore lost tooth structure.
Bicuspids
Also known as pre-molars, these teeth are behind the cuspids and in front of the molars. They typically have either one or two roots, with two cusps, and are used for chewing.
Bifurcation
The juncture where the roots of teeth split into two roots.
Biopsy
The removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination.
Bite
The relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure, which is also referred to as occlusion.
Bitewings
A type of x-ray used to help diagnose cavities between the back teeth.
Bleaching
The process of lightening teeth.
Bone graft
Surgical replacement of bone in preparation for a dental implant or to cosmetically replace missing bone.
Bonding
Adhering tooth-colored resin materials to restore the natural appearance of teeth. These materials can be sculpted and shaped to replace lost tooth structure due to decay or trauma and/or for cosmetic treatment.
Bridge
A fixed or removable dental appliance that replaces lost and/or missing teeth.
Bruxism
A habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth that typically occurs during sleep.
Buccal
The tooth surface which is next to the cheek. Usually only posterior teeth touch the cheek, so people usually use the term "buccal" only when talking about the back teeth.

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C

Calculus
The scientific term for tartar, which is a hard deposit that typically forms due to poor oral hygiene. When plaque mineralizes and hardens it forms calculus.
Canal
The narrow chamber inside the root of the tooth that contains the nerve and blood vessels. Analogous to a wick inside a candle.
Canines
The third tooth from the center. Also known as a cuspid.
Canker sore
A small ulceration appearing whitish, often with a red halo, that can last from ten to fourteen days.
Cantilever bridge
A fixed bridge that attaches to adjacent teeth only on one end. Typically the tooth that is cantilevered is smaller and the bridge is usually attached to two or more teeth in front or back of the missing space.
Caries
Another name for a cavity (tooth decay).
Cavitron
A dental instrument that uses high frequency ultrasonic waves to remove calculus from teeth.
Cementum
A hard tissue that covers the root of a tooth.
Cleft lip
An abnormality in which the lip does not completely form. The degree of the cleft lip can vary greatly, from mild (notching of the lip) to severe (large opening from the lip up through the nose).
Cleft palate
Occurs when the roof of the mouth does not completely close, leaving an opening that can extend into the nasal cavity. The cleft may involve either side of the palate. It can extend from the front of the mouth (hard palate) to the throat (soft palate). The cleft may also include the lip.
Clenching
The habit of consciously or subconsciously squeezing the teeth together with extraordinary muscle force. See Bruxism.
Closed bite
A malocclusion where the upper teeth cover the lower teeth when bitting down. This is also called a "deep bite."
Cold sore
This is caused by the herpes simplex virus that is composed of groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometime under the nose or chin. Cold sores are very contagious.
Composite filling
Tooth-colored fillings that are typically completed in one office visit.
Composite resin
A tooth colored material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles that hardens either with a high intensity light or a chemical catalyst.
Congenital
Present at birth.
Cosmetic recontouring
A cosmetic procedure to shape the natural teeth to make them straighter or more youthful.
Cosmetic dentistry
The field of dentistry dedicated to the art and science of enhancing a person's smile, overall appearance, and oral health.
Cracked tooth syndrome
When a tooth has a partial or complete fracture. Can be treated with a crown, root canal and/or extraction.
Craniofacial
Pertaining to the head (skull) and face.
Crossbite
A malocclusion where some of the upper teeth are inside of the lower teeth when a person bites down.
Crowding
An orthodontic problem caused by having too many teeth in too small of a space.
Crown
A restoration that covers all or part of a tooth, which typically requires two office visits. Crowns can be made of porcelain, gold, stainless steel, or composite. Also known as caps. This is also the portion of a tooth above the gumline.
Curettage
The act of removing infected tissue from a wound; used commonly in dentistry to refer to the removal of grossly inflamed gum tissue caused by periodontal disease.
Cusps
The highest point on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (posterior teeth).
Cuspid
The third tooth from the center of the mouth. These are part of the anterior group. Also known as a canine tooth.

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D

DDS
Doctor of Dental Surgery. Equivalent to a DMD degree with the only difference based upon the degree awarded by the school the doctor attended.
Decalcification
The loss of calcium from teeth. This weakens the teeth and makes them more susceptible to decay.
Decay
Destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria.
Deciduous teeth
The first set of teeth a human is born with. Also known as baby teeth and primary teeth.
Dentin
The layer of tooth structure under the enamel. This layer is highly sensitive.
Dentition
The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.
Denture
A removable appliance that replaces all or some of the teeth. Can be an upper and/or lower prosthetic.
Diagnosis
The process of identifying the nature of a disorder, disease or condition.
Diastema
A space between two teeth.
Digital X-rays
A computer technology whereby radiographs are seen immediately after exposure on the computer screen. No developing or waiting is necessary. They can be magnified, colorized, and have their density manipulated for greater information. The radiation exposure necessary is about 90 percent less than that of conventional dental radiographs, which are already quite low.
Disinfectant
A chemical agent that is applied onto inanimate surfaces, for example chairs, to destroy germs.
Disinfection
A cleaning process which destroys most microorganisms, but not highly resistant forms such as bacterial spores or the AIDS virus.
Distal
Towards the back of the mouth. For example you would say that the lateral is distal to the central.
DMD
Doctor of Medical Dentistry. Equivalent to a DDS degree with the only difference based upon the degree awarded by the school the doctor attended.

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E

Edentulous
When all of the teeth are missing from either the upper and/or lower jaw.
Enamel
The hard, white outer layer of the tooth that covers and protects the dentin.
Endodontics
The treatment of diseases and/or injuries that affect the root tip and/or pulp (nerve) of the tooth.
Endodontist
Specialist who treats injuries, diseases, and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber).
Eruption
Process of teeth protruding through the gums and appearing in the mouth.
Exfoliate
Means to fall out. The deciduous (baby) teeth exfoliate and permanent teeth erupt into their space.
Extraoral
Outside of the mouth.
Extraction
The removal of a tooth.
Extrusion
Tooth movement in the direction of eruption. The two types are; Mechanical extrusion: to move teeth with an applied force so that they extend farther out of the gums. Natural extrusion: teeth naturally extrude from the bone until there is contact with another tooth.

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F

FAGD
Fellowship of the Academy of General Dentistry
Filling
The restoration of lost tooth structure with tooth-colored or metal materials.
Filtrum
The dimple or indentation under the nose directly above the upper lip.
Fistula
The channel emanating pus from an infection site. Also referred to as a gum boil.
Fluoride
A natural element found commonly in nature in water, soil, air, and in a lot of foods. Fluoride is absorbed easily into the teeth's enamel to help protect the teeth from tooth eating bacteria. It can be used as a topical such as in fluoridated toothpastes and gels or it can be absorbed systemically such as in fluoridated water, soft drinks, teas, and dietary supplements. The systemic fluoride that is retained by the body is absorbed by bones and teeth.
Fluorosis
A harmless cosmetic discoloring of the enamel, which appears as chalky white specks and lines or pitted and brown stained enamel on teeth.
Fixed appliance
Any appliance that is cemented or bonded to the teeth.
Fixed bridge
A dental prosthetic used to replace missing tooth/teeth that is cemented or bonded to adjacent teeth, which have been prepared to provide the foundation for the prosthetic.
Forensic dentistry
The gathering of legal evidence for identification or legal purposes.
Freeway space
The distance between the upper and lower teeth with the lower jaw in rest position, which is typically the position immediately after swallowing.
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.
Frenum
Small pieces of pink colored skin that attach the lips, cheeks and tongue to the mouth. Examples include the piece of skin under the tongue, which sticks out when the tongue is lifted, and the piece of skin which sticks out when the lips are pulled out.
Full mouth reconstruction
Extensive restoration of the entire mouth with crowns, bridges and/or implants to restore natural function.
Full mouth x-rays
X-rays showing all the teeth. This provides vision between the teeth as well as the entire roots of teeth. Also known as a complete series.

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G

Genioplasty
Surgery of the chin, whereby its shape or size is altered.
General anesthesia
True general anesthesia is a deep state, and includes the loss of all reflexes and sometimes requires respiratory assistance. This state is rarely necessary for general dental procedures as all the most fearful patient wants is no pain, no consciousness of the procedures and no memory of the experience.
Geographic tongue
Benign changes in the usual color and texture of tongue, which does not require treatment.
Gingiva
Gum tissue, which is pink and firm when it is healthy.
Gingival hypertrophy
The abnormal enlargement of the gingiva surrounding the teeth caused by poor oral hygiene or some medications.
Gingivectomy
The surgical removal of gum tissue.
Gingivitis
Inflammation of the gum tissue. Gingivitis is caused by the bacteria found in plaque that attack the gums. Symptoms of gingivitis include red, puffy gums and/or bleeding gums. When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis.
Gingivoplasty
The reshaping of gum contours, often for esthetic purposes. Generally very easy and non-painful, it is often a good solution for a "gummy smile."
Guided tissue regeneration
A technique for replacing lost bone tissue.
Gum disease
See gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Gum recession
Exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.
Gutta percha
A rubber-like material used to fill root canals.

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H

Halitosis
Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin.
Hard palate
The roof of the mouth.
Hematoma
Swelling of effused blood beneath the tissue surface.
Hemisection
A surgical procedure whereby the roots of a tooth are separated and treated as individual teeth.
High lip line
Where the widest smile meets the gum tissue above the teeth.
Hydrogen peroxide
Disinfecting solution used in dental irrigation procedures or as a mouth rinse.
Hygienist
Dental professional who cleans teeth and provides patient education. They can administer local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, and perform periodontal scaling.
Hyperemia
Increased blood flow; may cause dental sensitivity to temperature and sweets, and may precede an abscess.

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I

Impaction
An unerupted or partially erupted tooth that is stuck in bone because it is obstructed by bone or another tooth.
Implant
Artificial tooth roots that are placed into bone to mimic the root structure of a tooth. They can be used to replace teeth or to support and retain dentures. A crown, bridge, or denture is then placed over the implant to restore natural tooth function.
Incisal
The biting edge of the centrals and laterals.
Incision and Drainage (I and D)
A technique used to allow for the drainage of infections.
Incisor
The central or lateral front teeth with cutting edges. There are four upper (central and lateral) and four lower (central and lateral).
Impression
Mold made of the teeth and/or soft tissues. Impressions are used to make crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures, implants, some fillings, and study models.
Infiltration
Local anesthetic procedure effective for upper teeth and soft tissue. Placement of anesthetic is under the gum tissue.
Inlay
A porcelain, resin, or gold filling that is cemented or bonded in place to help restore a small portion of a decayed or broken tooth.
Interproximal
The space between two teeth.
Intraoral
Inside the mouth.
Intraoral camera
A small camera used to view and magnify oral conditions.
Intrusion
Movement of a tooth back into the bone.
IV Sedation
An anesthetic technique sometimes referred to as "twilight sleep" that is lighter than general anesthesia. Provides pain control and prevents patients from remembering the procedure.

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J

Jaw
The bone that teeth are affixed to.

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K

Keratin
A protein present in the organic matrix of the enamel of teeth.
Keratinized gingiva
The oral surface of the gingiva extending from the mucogingival junction to the gingival margin. In gingival health, the coronal portion of the sulcular epithelium may also be keratinized.

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L

Labial
The tooth surface next to the lips. Usually refers to the front teeth.
Laminate veneer
A thin porcelain or composite resin facing that is bonded to teeth.
Laughing gas
See nitrous oxide; odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation). Used to reduce anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.
Lingual
The tooth surface next to the tongue.
Local anesthesia
Relieves the sensation of pain in a specific area.
Low lip line
Where the widest smile barely reveals the bottom edges of the upper front teeth.

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M

Malocclusion
A "bad bite" or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth.
Mandible
The lower jaw.
Maxilla
The upper jaw.
Mandibular
Pertaining to the lower jaw.
Margin
The interface between a restoration and tooth structure.
Maryland bridge
A bridge that is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth, which requires minimum tooth reduction.
Masticate
To chew food and mix it with saliva.
Mechanical extrusion
To move teeth with an applied force so that they extend farther out of the gums.
Mesial
Towards the front of the mouth. For example a central tooth is mesial to a lateral tooth.
Microgenia
A small or underdeveloped chin.
Microglossia
Smallness of the tongue.
Micrognathia
Abnormal smallness of the lower jaw.
Midline
An imaginary vertical line that divides the face into equal parts. A symmetrical midline extends from the top of the nose in between the two front top and bottom teeth and the tip of the chin.
Mixed dentition
The situation when both deciduous (baby) and permanent (adult) teeth are present.
Molars
The back teeth with the large chewing surfaces. They typically have from two to four roots and there are first, second and third molars.

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N

Natural extrusion
Teeth naturally extrude from the bone until there is contact with another tooth.
Nightguard
A plastic type of appliance that is used to relax the jaw muscles and/or prevent the teeth from wearing down due to bruxism (grinding), which typically occurs during sleep. People who wake up with sore muscles, facial weakness, or a jaw that is "locked" are good candidates for this device.
Nitrous oxide
Also known as "laughing gas." An odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation). Used to reduce anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.

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O

Occlusal
The chewing surfaces of back teeth.
Occlusal equilibration
The science of interpreting and adjusting the bite for harmony of function and relaxed musculature. May need to be periodically redone or touched up to account for tooth wear and drifting.
Occlusion
Any contact between the biting and chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth.
Onlay
A porcelain, resin, or gold filling that protects a tooth by replacing all or part of the chewing surface and one or more sides of a tooth.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon
Orthopedic facial surgeon who is responsible for treating a wide variety of dental problems including the removal of impacted teeth (orthognathic surgery), abnormal growths, and reconstructive facial surgery.
Oral hygiene
The process of cleaning and maintaining the teeth and related structures.
Oral pathologist
Dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases.
Oral surgery
Surgery inside the mouth.
Oropharynx
The part of the throat at the back of the mouth.
Orthodontics
The dental specialty that focuses on the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws.
Orthodontist
A dentist who has been specially trained in orthodontics.
Overbite
Vertical overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower teeth.
Overdenture
A removable denture that fits over a small number of remaining natural teeth and/or implants. The natural teeth must have sufficient bone to provide stability and support for the denture.
Overjet
Horizontal projection of upper teeth beyond the lower teeth.

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P

Palate
Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth.
Palliative treatment
Non-invasive relief of irritating conditions.
Panoramic x-ray
Allows doctors to see a broad view of the entire structure of the mouth, including the jaw, in a single image. Within one large film, panoramic X-rays reveal all of the upper and lower teeth and parts of the jaw, and provide information used for extracting wisdom teeth, and can reveal abnormal growths or cysts in the jaw bone.
Panorex
See Panoramic X-ray.
Parasthesia
A partial loss of sensation that may be temporary or permanent.
Partial denture (bridge)
A removable appliance that replaces some of the teeth in either the upper or lower jaw.
Periapical (PA)
The region at the end of the roots of teeth.
Periapical x-rays
X-rays that show the entire tooth, including the root and surrounding bone. These are useful in diagnosing an abscess, impacted teeth or bone loss from periodontal disease.
Pedodontics
The area of dentistry that specializes in the treatment of children.
Pedodontist
A dentist who specializes in the treatment of children's teeth.
Periodontal pocket
The space that forms when the gums pull away from the tooth. If the pocket is deeper than 3mm, it is difficult for an individual to effectively clean the area.
Periodontal disease (gum disease)
Inflammation of the bone and attached gum tissue. Clinically appears as loose teeth and/or bleeding gums. Can be treated non-surgically as well as surgically depending on the severity.
Periodontal maintenance
The periodic cleaning of the teeth, which usually follows periodontal treatment. Also known as a perio prophy or perio recall.
Periodontist
Specialist in treating gum and bone diseases.
Periodontitis
When the gums pull away from the teeth and form "pockets" that are infected. If left untreated, the teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
Permanent molars
The adult first, second and third molars that usually appear in six year increments starting at age 6.
Permanent teeth
The adult teeth.
Plaque
A film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums after eating foods that produce acids. If plaque is not removed, it hardens to form calculus or tarter, which can only be removed professionally.
Pontic
Replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance.
Porcelain
A ceramic glass that fuses at high temperatures. This is used in crowns, bridges and veneers to mimic enamel.
Porcelain fused to metal