Dental Term Glossry | Dr. Verne Ticknor DDS | Dentist | South Haven, MI
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Learn the lingo!

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You'll feel more comfortable with your dental care when you understand commonly used dental terms and phrases and what they mean. Learn the lingo when you check out our dental term glossary:

 

 

Abrasion:

Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing 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 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 (app 50%), silver, tin, copper and zinc used for fillings

 

Analgesia:

A state of pain relief; an agent lessening 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, 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 x-rays

 

Black hairy tongue:

Elongated papillae on the tongue, promoting the growth of microorganisms

 

Bleaching:

Chemical or laser 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; 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; 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, often stained yellow or brown

 

Canker sore:

Mouth sore appearing whitish, often with a red halo, of 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

 

Cellulitis:

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 (tarter) from teeth, generally above the gum line

 

Composite resin:

Material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles; usually cured with filtered light or chemical catalyst

 

Core:

A buildup of the tooth, often necessary to ensure an accurate impression during a crown preparation.

 

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

 

Cross bite:

Reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth; aka "under bite," as in Class III malocclusion (prognathic jaw)

 

Crown:

(1) The portion of a tooth above the gum line;

(2) 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, hard or 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 (usually) twenty teeth

 

Dentin:

Inner layer of tooth structure, immediately under the surface enamel

 

Dental implant:

A (usually) 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:

Space between teeth

 

Enamel:

Hard tissue covering the portion of tooth above the gum line

 

Endodontist:

Specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber)

 

Epidemiology:

Study of the incidence of disease in a population

 

Eruption:

Process of teeth protruding through the gums

 

Exfoliate:

Process of shedding deciduous (baby) teeth

 

Exodontia:

Practice of dental extractions

 

Explorer:

Sharp instrument used to detect 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; may be acrylic, composite or porcelain

 

FAGD:

Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry

 

Filling:

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

 

Fistula:

Channel emanating pus from an infection site; a gum boil

 

Flap surgery:

Lifting of gum tissue to expose and clean underlying tooth and bone structures

 

Freeway space:

Distance between the upper and lower teeth with the lower jaw in rest position

 

Forceps:

Instrument used for removal of teeth

 

Forensic dentistry:

Practice of gathering legal evidence for body identification or judicial issues

 

Fossa:

Valley found on the surface of posterior teeth

 

Full denture:

Removable dental prosthesis (appliance) replacing all upper or lower teeth

 

Full mouth reconstruction:

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

 

Frenectomy:

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; does not require treatment

 

Gingiva:

Gum tissue

 

Gingivectomy:

Surgical removal of gum tissue

 

Gingivitis:

Inflammation of gum tissue

 

Gum boil:

See fistula.

 

Gum recession:

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:

Technique employed by rescuer for obstruction of victim's airway

 

Hematoma:

Swelling of effused blood beneath tissue surface

 

HMO or DMO:

Health (dental) maintenance organization which specifies a health care (dental) provider a patient may see. Profitability depends on minimization of treatment.

 

Hydrogen peroxide:

Disinfecting solution used in dental irrigation procedures or as mouth rinse

 

Hygienist:

Dental auxiliary who cleans teeth and provides patient education; administers local anesthetic, nitrous oxide and performs periodontal scaling

 

Hyperemia:

Increased blood flow; may cause dental sensitivity to temperature and sweets; may precede an abscess

 

Impaction:

Partial or completely unexposed tooth that is wedged against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue, precluding the eruption process

 

Implant:

Artificial device replacing tooth root; may anchor an artificial tooth, bridge, or denture

 

Impression:

Mold made of the teeth and soft tissues

 

Incision and drainage:

Surgical incision of an abscess to drain suppuration (pus)

 

Incisors:

Four upper and four lower front teeth, excluding the cuspids (canine teeth)

 

Infiltration:

Local anesthetic procedure effective for upper teeth and soft tissue; placement of anesthetic under the gum, allowing it to seep into bone

 

Inlay:

Indirect - filling made by a dental laboratory that is cemented or bonded into place, direct - placement of dental composite resin restoration at chairside

 

Interproximal:

Surfaces of adjoining teeth

 

Interocclusal:

Space between upper and lower teeth

 

Intraoral camera:

A small video camera used to view and magnify oral conditions; images may be printed

 

Jacket:

Crown for a front tooth, usually made of porcelain

 

Laminate:

Thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth

 

Laughing gas:

Nitrous oxide; odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation); 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:

"Bad bite" or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth

 

Managed care:

Program whereby patient-dentist assignment and dentist reimbursement is administered by a separate, external organization

 

Mandible:

The lower jaw

 

Margin:

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; requires minimum tooth reduction

 

Mastication:

Process of chewing food

 

Maxilla:

The upper jaw

 

Meniscus:

Capsular cushion between temporomandibular joint and glenoid fossa

 

Milk teeth:

Deciduous (baby) teeth

 

Molars:

Three back teeth in each dental quadrant used for grinding food.

 

Moniliasis (thrush):

Opportunistic fungal infection after administration of antibiotic; not uncommon in the mouth

 

Mucogingival junction (MGJ):

Meeting of thick, protective gingival tissue around the teeth and the friable mucous lining of the cheeks and lips

 

NSAID:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often used as a dental analgesic

 

Nerve:

Tissue that conveys sensation, temperature, position information to the brain

 

Nerve (root) canal:

Dental pulp; the internal chamber of a tooth

 

Night guard:

Acrylic appliance used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by grinding or gnashing of the teeth during sleep

 

Nitrous oxide:

A gas used to reduce patient anxiety

 

Novocain:

Older brand name for a local anesthetic, currently replaced by safer, more effective agents

 

Occlusion:

Closure; relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure

 

Onlay:

Laboratory produced restoration covering one or more cusps of a tooth

 

Oral and maxillofacial surgeon:

A dental specialist who manages the diagnosis & 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:

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:

Dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases

 

Orthodontics:

Dental specialty that treats misalignment of teeth

 

Osseous:

Boney

 

Overbite:

Vertical overlap of the front teeth

 

Overdenture:

Denture that fits over residual roots or dental implants

 

Overjet:

Horizontal overlap of the front teeth

 

Palate:

Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth

 

Palliative treatment:

Non-invasive relief of irritating conditions

 

Paresthesia:

A partial loss of sensation; may be temporary or permanent

 

Partial denture:

Removable dental prosthesis (appliance) replacing one or more natural teeth

 

Pathology:

Study of disease

 

Periapical (PA):

Region at the end of the roots of teeth

 

Periodontal surgery:

Recontouring or esthetic management of diseased gum and supporting tissue

 

Periodontist:

Dental specialist treating the gums and supporting soft and hard tissues retaining natural teeth and the surgical placement of dental implants

 

Pedodontics or pediatric dentistry:

Dental specialty focusing on treatment of children

 

Periodontal chart:

Record measuring the depth of gum pockets around the teeth

 

Permanent teeth:

(Usually) thirty-two adult teeth in a complete dentition

 

Pit:

A small defect in the tooth enamel; junction of four formative lobes of a developing tooth

 

Placebo:

Inert medication or treatment that produces psychological benefit

 

Plaque:

Soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth; composed of bacteria and food debris due to inadequate dental hygiene

 

Pontic:

Replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance

 

Porcelain crown:

All porcelain restoration covering the coronal portion of tooth (above the gum line)

 

Porcelain fused to metal (PFM) crown:

Restoration with metal coping (for strength) covered by porcelain (for appearance)

 

Porcelain inlay or onlay:

Tooth-colored restoration made of porcelain, cemented or bonded in place

 

Porcelain veneers:

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

 

Post:

Thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal therapy; provides retention for a "coping" that replaces lost tooth structure and retains crown

 

Post-core:

Post and buildup to replace lost tooth structure and retain crown

 

Post-crown:

Single structure that combines post-core and crown

 

PPO or PDO:

Preferred provider (dental) organization which a health care (dental) provider may join, offering fee for service treatment 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:

Dental specialist skilled in restoring or replacing teeth with fixed or removable prosthesis (appliance), maintaining proper occlusion; treats facial deformities with artificial prostheses such as eyes, ears, and noses

 

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; common cause of toothache

 

Pulpotomy:

Partial removal of the pulp tissue

 

Pyorrhea:

Older term for periodontal (gum) disease

 

Reimplantation:

Insertion and temporary fixation of partially or completely avulsed tooth or teeth, resulting from traumatic injury

 

Reline:

Acrylic restoration of denture base to compensate for bone loss; direct: done at chairside; indirect: in conjunction with a dental laboratory

 

Restoration:

Replacement of portion of a damaged tooth

 

Retained root:

Partial root structure remaining in jaw after extraction or fracture of a natural tooth

 

Root:

Tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw

 

Root canal:

Common term for root canal therapy, also the interior space of the tooth root

 

Root canal therapy:

Process of removing pulp of a tooth and filling it with an inert material

 

Root resection:

Removal of a portion of diseased root structure, retaining the remaining natural tooth

 

Rubber dam:

Soft latex sheet used to establish isolation of one or more teeth from contamination by oral fluids and to keep materials from falling to the back of the throat

 

Saliva:

Clear lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells and undigested food particles

 

Saliva ejector:

Suction tube placed in the mouth to remove saliva

 

Salivary glands:

Located under tongue and in cheeks, produce saliva

 

Scaling and root planning:

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

 

Sequestrum:

Loosened spicule of bone pushed to the surface

 

Sinusitis:

Inflammation of the sinus that may mimic dental pain

 

Sleep apnea:

The periodic interruption or delay in breathing during sleep

 

Space maintainer:

Dental device that holds the space lost through premature loss of baby teeth

 

Splint:

Connection of two or more teeth so they function as a stronger single structure

 

Supernumerary tooth:

Extra tooth

 

Suppuration:

Bacterial contamination of tissue exudate; pus

 

Tartar:

Common term for dental calculus, a hard deposit that adheres to teeth; produces rough surface that attracts plaque

 

TMD (or TMJ disorder):

Temporomandibular disorder; term given to condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open or move the jaw

 

TMJ:

The temporomandibular joint, the point where the lower jaw attaches to the skull

 

Third-party provider:

Insurance company, union, government agency that pays all or a part of cost of dental treatment

 

Tooth bud:

Early embryonic structure that becomes a tooth

 

Tooth whitening:

A chemical or laser process to lighten the color of teeth

 

Topical anesthetic:

Ointment that produces mild anesthesia when applied to tissue surface

 

Torus:

Common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw

 

Transplant:

Placing a natural tooth in the empty socket of another tooth

 

Trauma:

Injury caused by external force, chemical, 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:

Plastic or porcelain facing bonded directly to a tooth to improve its appearance. See laminate.

 

Vertical dimension:

Arbitrary space between upper and lower jaws upon closure; may decrease over time due to wear, shifting or damage to the teeth

 

Wisdom teeth:

Third (last) molars that usually erupt at age 18-25 (when "wisdom is attained")

 

Xerostomia:

Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva