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Glossary of Dental Terms

Dentists use a lot of words to describe parts of the mouth, problems, and procedures. Your dentist can explain any term you don’t know, but in the meantime here are some you can learn about:

  • Abrasion. Wear on a tooth caused by brushing too hard, holding things in your teeth, and other rubbing actions.

  • Amalgam. A dental filling material made up of a mixture of different metals such as mercury, silver, tin, and copper. Also known as a silver filling.

  • Band. A metal ring put around a tooth with cement as part of orthodontic treatment.

  • Bicuspid (also called premolar). A tooth that has two cusps, or pointed areas on top and is located in from of the molars.

  • Bitewing. An X-ray of the crowns of the upper and lower molars and premolars. Most common X-rays taken at a routine exam.

  • Bonding. The process by which a tooth-colored filling material or orthodontic bracket is attached to a tooth.

  • Bridge. An appliance that is cemented in place and replaces missing teeth. It attaches an artificial tooth or teeth to the natural teeth next to it.

  • Bruxism. An unconscious habit of grinding or clenching of the teeth which often happens when a person is sleeping or during the day.

  • Buccal. Of or near the inside surface of the cheeks or surfaces of the teeth or restorations directed toward the cheeks.

  • Calculus (tartar). A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to get inflamed. It’s scraped off when a dentist cleans your teeth.

  • Caries. The technical term for tooth decay.

  • Cavity. An area of a tooth that’s damaged due to caries.

  • Cementum. The thin, hard tissue that covers the root of a tooth.

  • Composite. A tooth-colored filling material used to repair or cosmetically enhance teeth that’s made of several types of resin-based substances.

  • Crown. The top part of the natural tooth that’s covered with enamel. Also, a name for the filling that covers the entire natural crown when the tooth has broken down and can't be fixed by a smaller amalgam or composite filling.

  • Cusp. One of the pointed parts on the top of a tooth.

  • Dental floss. Thin strands of string-like material used to clean between the teeth and around the gums.

  • Dentin. The substance underneath the enamel on the top of a tooth, and under the cementum at the root.

  • Dry socket. Pain and inflammation in a tooth socket after the tooth is removed and the blood clot is lost, leaving bone and nerve ending exposed.

  • Enamel. The hard, calcium-rich surface that covers the crown of a tooth.

  • Endodontist. A specialist who treats problems of the tooth nerve (pulp) or infections in the bone associated with infected nerves with procedures such as root canal.

  • Extraction. The removal of all or part of a tooth.

  • Filling. Material that’s used to repair a damaged area of a tooth. It can be made of metals, resins (plastic), or porcelain.

  • Gingiva. The soft tissues around the teeth. Also called gums.

  • Gingivitis. An early form of gum disease where the gums are inflamed and become red, swollen, and bleed easily. It’s usually caused by plaque buildup.

  • Impacted tooth. A tooth that’s blocked from coming up through the gums by another tooth, bone, or soft tissue.

  • Implant. A device that’s put into the jaw bone to replace a missing tooth and hold a prosthesis (filling) such as a crown or bridge or anchor a denture.

  • Lingual. Of or near the tongue.

  • Malocclusion. When the upper and lower teeth aren’t lined up well in order to bite and chew properly.

  • Mandible. The lower jaw.

  • Maxilla. The upper jaw.

  • Molars. The large teeth near the back of the jaws that are used for grinding food.

  • Mouthguard. A removable device that a person wears over their teeth to protect them from damage during sports.

  • Nightguard. A removable device that a person wears over their teeth at night to protect them from damage due to bruxism.

  • Occlusion. The contact between the upper and lower teeth in order to bite and chew.

  • Orthodontist. A type of dentist that works to correct the position of teeth with braces and other tools.

  • Palate. The hard and soft tissues that form the roof of the mouth.

  • Pediatric dentist. A dentist who specializes in treating children.

  • Periodontal pocket. A deep area between a tooth and gum that’s the result of gum disease.

  • Periodontist. A dentist who specializes in treating the periodontal tissues that surround the teeth (gums).

  • Periodontitis (periodontal disease). A more severe infection of the gums that occurs when gingivitis gets worse. It can cause the gums and bones that support the teeth to break down. When severe or long standing teeth can loosen and fall out.

  • Plaque. A sticky film of bacteria and other substances that coat the teeth every day. Brushing and flossing help remove plaque. If not removed regularly, plaque can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

  • Prosthesis. An artificial replacement of a tooth or teeth or missing soft or hard tissues.

  • Pulp. The soft tissue inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves.

  • Restoration. A kind of treatment that repairs or replaces teeth.

  • Retainer. A removable device that’s worn in the mouth to prevent teeth from moving out of position, often used after orthodontic treatment or premature loss of teeth.

  • Root canal. A treatment that removes the tooth nerve (pulp) and seals the space formerly occupied by the nerve with an inert material. A crown is recommended to cover the tooth to prevent it from breaking.

  • Root planing. Cleaning of a tooth root to remove bacteria, calculus, and diseased surfaces.

  • Root. The bottom part of the tooth that anchors it in the jaw and is covered by bone and the gums.

  • Scaling. A procedure that uses tools to remove plaque, tartar, and stains from teeth.

  • Sealant. A thin plastic resin coating that can be placed on the biting surfaces of back teeth to help prevent caries.

  • Sublingual. Under the tongue.

  • Submandibular. Below the lower jaw.

  • Tartar (calculus). A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to get inflamed. It’s scraped off when a dentist or hygienist cleans your teeth.

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull.

  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. Pain, clicking, and other symptoms that are cause by problems with the temporomandibular joint and the associated muscles.

  • Veneer. A thin, artificial cover for a tooth to correct its shape or color. It’s made to look and feel like a real tooth. Veneers can be made of porcelain, ceramic, composite, or acrylic resin.

  • Xerostomia. Dry mouth caused by salivary glands that don’t work properly or reduced flow of saliva from medications.

  • X-ray. An image of bones, teeth and restorations made with radiation.

“Glossary of Clinical and Administrative Terms.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2016.

“Glossary of Orthodontic Terms.” American Association of Orthodontics. Accessed 2016.

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