Dental Term Glossry | Dr. Verne Ticknor DDS | Dentist | South Haven, MI
Dr. Verne Ticknor DDS

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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:




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



An infection of a tooth, soft tissue or bone



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



Unfavorable systemic response to a foreign substance or drug


Alveolar bone:

The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth



A most common filling material, also known as "silver fillings," containing mercury (app 50%), silver, tin, copper and zinc used for fillings



A state of pain relief; an agent lessening pain



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



A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria



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



The tip of the root of a tooth



Surgical removal of the root tip to treat a dead tooth



Describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth



Loss of structure due to natural wear



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



Removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination



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



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



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)



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



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



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



Persistent "nervous" grinding of the teeth while the patient is awake



Chemical element needed for healthy teeth, bones and nerves



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



Common term for dental crown



Tooth decay or "cavities"


Cast or model:

Reproduction of structures made by pouring plaster or stone into a mold



Dental tool that uses high frequency ultrasonic waves to clean teeth



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



Hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth



Log of dental or medical records



Device that retains a removable partial denture to stationary teeth



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



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)



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

(2) Dental restoration covering all or most of the natural tooth



Removal of diseased tissue from a periodontal pocket



Mound on posterior teeth


Cuspid or canine:

The four "eye teeth"



A soft or hard tissue sac, hard or filled with fluid



Doctor of Dental Surgery - equivalent to DMD



Doctor of Medical Dentistry - equivalent to DDS



Destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria


Deciduous teeth:

Commonly called "baby teeth," the first set of (usually) twenty teeth



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



The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth



Removable (partial or complete) set of artificial teeth



The production of dentures dispensed directly by laboratory technicians



Space between teeth



Hard tissue covering the portion of tooth above the gum line



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



Study of the incidence of disease in a population



Process of teeth protruding through the gums



Process of shedding deciduous (baby) teeth



Practice of dental extractions



Sharp instrument used to detect decay on the surface of teeth



Removal of a tooth



The four upper and lower canine (cuspid) teeth



Tooth colored overlay on the visible portion of a crown; may be acrylic, composite or porcelain



Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry



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



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



Instrument used for removal of teeth


Forensic dentistry:

Practice of gathering legal evidence for body identification or judicial issues



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.



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



(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



Gum tissue



Surgical removal of gum tissue



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



Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin


Heimlich Maneuver:

Technique employed by rescuer for obstruction of victim's airway



Swelling of effused blood beneath tissue surface



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



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



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



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



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



Mold made of the teeth and soft tissues


Incision and drainage:

Surgical incision of an abscess to drain suppuration (pus)



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



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



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



Surfaces of adjoining teeth



Space between upper and lower teeth


Intraoral camera:

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



Crown for a front tooth, usually made of porcelain



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



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



"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



The lower jaw



Interface between a restoration and tooth structure



Masters Academy of General Dentistry


Maryland bridge:

A bridge that is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth; requires minimum tooth reduction



Process of chewing food



The upper jaw



Capsular cushion between temporomandibular joint and glenoid fossa


Milk teeth:

Deciduous (baby) teeth



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



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



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



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



Closure; relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure



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



Dental specialty that treats misalignment of teeth






Vertical overlap of the front teeth



Denture that fits over residual roots or dental implants



Horizontal overlap of the front teeth



Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth


Palliative treatment:

Non-invasive relief of irritating conditions



A partial loss of sensation; may be temporary or permanent


Partial denture:

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



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



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



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



Inert medication or treatment that produces psychological benefit



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



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



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 and buildup to replace lost tooth structure and retain crown



Single structure that combines post-core and crown



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



The anticipated outcome of treatment



Cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of periodontal disease and tooth decay



An artificial appliance for the replacement for a body part



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



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



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



Inflammation of the pulp; common cause of toothache



Partial removal of the pulp tissue



Older term for periodontal (gum) disease



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



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



Replacement of portion of a damaged tooth


Retained root:

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



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



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



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



Loosened spicule of bone pushed to the surface



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



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


Supernumerary tooth:

Extra tooth



Bacterial contamination of tissue exudate; pus



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



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



Common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw



Placing a natural tooth in the empty socket of another tooth



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.



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



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")



Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva