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Glossary of Dental Terminology

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Abfraction – The loss of tooth structure due to heavy compressive loading and flexing of a tooth as in heavy grinding. This often leads to notched defects at the gum line.

Abrasion – The loss of tooth structure by mechanical forces from a foreign object (i.e. brushing too hard).

Abscess – An area of infection and swelling, usually filled with pus.  It can occur anywhere in the body, but in the mouth is often associated with a tooth that has a deep cavity or a fracture.

Abutment – A tooth or implant that acts as support for a prosthesis (replacement tooth/teeth).

Acid etching – The use of an acidic chemical to prepare the tooth surface for the bonding of a restoration.

Adhesive – A substance that joins together two or more surfaces.

Alveoloplasty – A surgical procedure to reshape the bone.  Often done in preparation for a denture.

Amalgam – A silver colored alloy (mixture) commonly used as a filling material.  It typically is composed of mercury, silver, tin and copper alone with other metallic elements that are safe and stable once mixed.

Anesthesia – Medication used to relieve pain.

Anterior teeth – Front teeth.  Also called incisors and cuspids/canines.

Apex – In dentistry, often used to describe the tip or end of the root end of the tooth.

Arch – The upper or lower jaw.

Attrition – The loss of tooth structure due to rubbing tooth on tooth, also termed wear.

Avulsion – The separation of a tooth from its socket due to trauma.


Baby bottle tooth decay – Term used to describe cavities in children under 5 years of age. Caused by sugary substances in breast milk, formula and some juices, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby’s mouth and result in decay of baby teeth.

Behavior management – Term used to describe techniques used to calm and educate a patient, to allow for a low stress and successful dental visit.

Benign – A mild or non-threatening illness or growth.

Bicuspid – A premolar tooth; a tooth with two cusps. The teeth located between the molars and cuspids/canines.

Biopsy – The process of removing a tissue sample for evaluation.

Bitewings – X-rays that help a dentist diagnose cavities and bone loss between the posterior (back) teeth.

Bleaching – The process of lightening the teeth, either by removing surface stains or by removing discoloration from deeper inside the tooth.

Bonding – Application of tooth-colored resin materials to the surface(s) of the teeth.

Bridge – A fixed prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth that is cemented or otherwise attached to abutment teeth or implants.

Bruxism – The parafunctional (bad, unnecessary) grinding of teeth.

Buccal – The cheek side of the teeth and gums.


Calculus – A hard deposit of mineralized substance adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth or prosthetic devices.  Commonly referred to as “Tartar.”

Canal (specifically root canal) – The narrow chamber inside the tooth’s root that houses the pulp.

Canine tooth – See cuspid.

Canker sore – Ulcer that occurs on the delicate tissue inside your mouth.  A canker sore is usually light-colored at its base and can have a red exterior border.

Carifree – A product line offered at Generations Dental that includes different mouth rinses, toothpastes, and candies all aimed at preventing cavities in high risk patients.

Caries – The term for the disease process that causes tooth decay or cavities.

Carious lesion – A cavity caused by caries.

Cavity – A term used to describe an actual loss of tooth structure.  The loss of tooth structure can be caused by caries (decay), erosion or abrasion.

Cementum – Hard surface covering the outer layer of the tooth’s root surface.  Like enamel, but on the root surface.

Cleft Palate – A congenital deformity that results in an unfused hard or soft palate.  Basically, a problem with the joining together of both sides of the palate or roof of the mouth that can result in a hole between then mouth and nasal passages.

Clenching – The clamping or pressing of the jaws and teeth together, frequently associated with stress or physical effort.

Co Diagnosis – The process allowing the dental professional and patient to co-discover areas of health and disease, leading to better communication, problem solving, planning and successful healthy outcomes.

Cold sore – A bump or cluster of bumps that are usually found on the outside of the mouth, usually on or near the nose or lips.  A cold sore is contagious and it is caused by the herpes simplex virus.  These sores are usually painful and filled with fluid.

Composite filling – A tooth colored restoration made of a resin (plastic like) material.

Composite resin – A tooth colored filling material used to make a restoration (fill a prepared cavity).

Contouring – The process of reshaping teeth.

Core buildup – Material added to a tooth to help provided a base of support for a crown if too much of the natural tooth is missing.

Cosmetic dentistry – Services provided by a dentist with the purpose of improving the appearance of teeth.

Crown – An artificial tooth replacement that restores missing tooth structure by surrounding the remaining tooth structure that is located above the gums.  It can also be placed on a dental implant.  Crowns are often made in dental labs and may be made of metal, ceramic, or a combination of the two.

Crown lengthening (Gum shortening) – A surgical procedure that often involves some bone removal to expose more tooth surface for restoration.  May be completed if there is not enough tooth left above the gums to support a crown.

Cusps – The pointed parts on top of the back teeth’s chewing surfaces.

Cuspids – Front “corner” teeth that have one cusp or point. More commonly known as canine or eye teeth.


Debridement – The removal of plaque, calculus (tarter), and stain from a tooth surface.

Decay – Demineralized tooth structure that is infected with bacteria.  It is often soft, darker in color and can result in sensitivity or pain.  The decayed part of the tooth is removed when a filling is placed.  The word “decay” may be used instead of “cavity” in some instances.

Deciduous teeth – Another word for “Baby” teeth.  The first set of teeth that we lose.

Dental insurance – A plan that financially assists in the expense of treatment and care of dental disease.  More of a dental “benefit” than an insurance.

Dentin – The tooth layer underneath the enamel.

Dentition – The teeth in a dental arch.

Denture – A removable set of teeth.

Complete Denture – A removable set of teeth that replaces all of the teeth on the top or bottom dental arch.

Partial Denture – A removable set of teeth that replaces some missing teeth in an arch while other natural teeth remain.  It may rest on the gums or on the remaining teeth.

Diagnostic Cast – A plaster or stone model of the mouth (teeth and supporting tissues).  Often used to aid in diagnosis and planning of future dental treatment.

Diastema – A space between two neighboring teeth in the same arch (i.e. between the two front teeth)

Dry socket – Inflammation in a tooth socket following extraction of the tooth.  It can be caused by infection or loss of a blood clot.


Edentulous – Without teeth.

Enamel – The outer layer on the top (crown) of the tooth.  The hardest part of a tooth.

Endodontics – A dental specialty that focuses on the treating the roots and nerves of the teeth.

Erosion – The wearing away of the outer surface of the tooth by acid.  This usually applies to the enamel but can applied to cementum or other tooth layers as well.

Extraoral – Outside the mouth.

Extraction – The process of removing a tooth or tooth parts.


Filling – Material placed in a tooth to replace missing tooth structure (often removed when cleaning out decayed tooth in a cavity).  It is meant to protect the tooth from further decay, sensitivity and fracture while restoring chewing function and esthetics.

Fixed Partial Denture – A replacement for one or more missing teeth that is permanently attached to the supporting teeth and is not removable.  Another word for a fixed partial denture is a bridge.

Fluoride – A naturally occurring mineral that bonds to the outermost layer of the tooth (enamel) and helps make it stronger and more resistant to break down by acid.

Fluorosis – A harmless tooth discoloration that occurs following over-exposure to Fluoride.


Genetic Test – A laboratory test used to determine if a person has a genetic condition or disease or if they are likely to get a disease.

Gingiva – Another word for gum tissue.

Gingivectomy – The excision or removal of gum tissue.

Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gum tissue often caused by the build-up of plaque.  The first (and the only reversible) step in the gum disease process.

Gum Disease – An infection of the gum tissues also known as periodontal disease.  This disease is incurable and involves bone loss around the teeth.  It can result in loss of teeth.

Graft – A piece of tissue (normally bone or gum tissue) that is placed on existing tissue to replace a defect or supplement a deficiency.


Halitosis – The clinical word for bad breath.

Hypoplastic tooth – A tooth that has a weakened enamel surface due to an issue during the development of the tooth.  These teeth are more susceptible to cavities.


Immediate Denture – A removable set of teeth that is meant to be placed in the mouth immediately after the tooth or teeth are extracted.

Impacted tooth – A condition in which a tooth fails to erupt (remains in the jaw bone) or only partially erupts into the mouth. Degrees of impaction are determined by how much of the tooth is covered by gum or bone tissue.

Implant – A permanent appliance used to replace missing teeth.  May be compared to a “screw” that is secured in the jaw and used to support a crown or denture.

Incisor – Front tooth with a cutting edge.

Inlay – An artificial filling made of various materials, including porcelain, resin, or gold.  Unlike “regular” fillings, an inlay is often made in a dental laboratory and cemented/bonded to the tooth.

Interproximal – Between the surfaces of two neighboring teeth.

Intraoral – Inside the mouth.


Jaw – A common name for either the Maxilla (upper jaw bone that supports the upper teeth) or Mandible (lower jaw bone that supports the lower teeth).



Laminate veneer – A thin shell of tooth colored material that is bonded to the enamel of a front tooth.  It is usually placed to restore discolored, damaged, misshapen, or misaligned teeth.

Lesion – An injury or wound; area of diseased tissue.


Malocclusion – Improper alignment of biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth. A bad bite relationship.

Mandible – The lower jaw.

Maxilla – The upper jaw.

Microabrasion – The mechanical removal of a small amount of tooth structure to eliminate superficial enamel discoloration defects.

Molar – Usually the largest teeth, located near the back of the mouth.  Molars have large chewing surfaces.

Mouthguard – Individually molded device designed primarily to be worn for the purpose of helping prevent injury to the teeth and their surrounding tissues.


Neuromuscular Dentistry – A specialty that addresses the aches and pains felt in and around the neck and head that are associated with your teeth and jaw.

Occlusal – Pertaining to the biting surface of the back teeth.

Occlusal Disease – A collection of disorders involving the jaw joints (TMJs), jaw muscles, and biting surfaces of the teeth.

Occlusion – Any contact between the upper and lower teeth.

Onlay – A dental restoration similar to an inlay but slightly larger.  It is often made in a dental lab and cemented to the tooth.  It protects or replaces one or more cusp and acts to protect the chewing surface of the tooth.  It is somewhere between a filling and a crown.

Oral – Pertaining to the mouth.

Orthodontics – A dental specialty that deals with tooth and jaw alignment.

Overdenture – A non-fixed (removable) dental prosthesis that sits on a small number of natural teeth or implants for support.  Like a denture it replaces missing teeth.


Palate – The roof of the mouth.

Pediatric dentistry – A dental specialty focusing on the care of children’s teeth and mouths.

Perio pocket – An opening in the “collar” between the tooth and gums.  If too large it is an indicator of the presence of gum disease.

Periodontal disease – Infection of the gum tissues resulting in bone loss and potential loss of teeth.  Also known as gum disease.

Periodontist – A dental specialist that treats diseases of the gums.

Periodontitis – Inflammation of the gum tissues and deeper boney structures leading to loss of bone support for the teeth. See periodontal disease and gum disease.

Permanent teeth – The teeth that erupt after the primary (baby) teeth.  Also known as adult teeth.  Most adults have 32 permanent teeth.

Plaque – A soft, sticky, colorless substance that covers the teeth after sleep or between periods of brushing.  It is composed largely of bacteria and bacterial waste.

Pontic – The term used for an artificial tooth on a fixed partial denture (bridge).

Post – A rod-like structure that is sometimes used to support a crown in a tooth that has had root canal therapy.

Posterior Teeth – The bicuspids and molars.  Also called the back teeth.

Premedication – The use of medication prior to a dental procedure.

Premolars – Another name for the bicuspid teeth.  These teeth have two points or cusps and are located between the molars and canines or cuspids.

Preventative Dentistry – A dental focus on promoting good oral health and function by preventing or reducing the development of disease or injury.

Primary teeth – A person’s first set of teeth.  Also called baby teeth or deciduous teeth.  Most people will have 20 primary teeth.

Prophylaxis – The act of cleaning the teeth.  It includes the removal of plaque, calculus (tarter) and stains from the parts of the tooth located above the gums.

Prosthesis – An artificial replacement of any part of the body.

Prosthodontics – A dental specialty that focuses on the repair and replacement of deficient or missing teeth.

Provisional Crown – A temporary crown used to protect the tooth while a final and permanent crown is being made by a dental laboratory.

Pulp – The inner tissues of the tooth containing blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.  The pulp is housed in the root canal.


Quadrant – One of four equal sections into which the dental arches can be divided.


Radiograph – An image or picture produced by the exposure of tissue to x-rays.

Receding gums – A condition in which the gums separate from the tooth, allowing bacteria and other substances to attack the tooth’s enamel and surrounding bone.  This is usually accompanied by the loss of bone around a tooth and is part of periodontal disease.

Reline – The process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture.

Resin filling – A tooth colored restoration. Also known as a Composite filling.

Retainer – An appliance that may be removable or may be cemented to the teeth with the purpose of stabilizing the teeth in a certain place.

Root – The part of the tooth that is located in the tooth socket and is covered by bone and gum tissue.

Root Canal – The opening in the middle part of the root that contains the dental pulp.

Root Canal Therapy – The treatment of disease or injury to the pulp.  It usually involves the removal of the injured or diseased portion of the dental pulp.


Scaling – Removal of plaque, calculus (tarter) and stain from teeth.

Sealant – A protective, thin resin that is placed in the grooves and pits on teeth to protect the enamel and chewing surfaces from decay.

Sedative filling – A temporary filling intended to relieve pain.

Splint – A device used to support, protect, or immobilize oral structures that have been loosened, re-implanted, fractured, or traumatized.  May also be used to refer to devices used in treatment of issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

Supernumerary teeth – Extra erupted or un-erupted teeth present in the jaw.

Suture – Stitch used to repair an incision or wound.


TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) – Abbreviation used to describe the temporomandibular joint.  This is the jaw joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull.  This abbreviation is often misused to describe disorders or problems with the joint, which are actually referred to collectively as TMD.

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) – Abnormal functioning of the TMJ.  Also refers to symptoms arising in other areas secondary to jaw joint dysfunction.

Tarter – A hardened substance that sticks to the tooth’s surface.  Also known as calculus.

Torus – A bony elevation or protuberance of bone.  A variation of normal jaw development.

Treatment Plan – A sequential guide for a patient’s care as determined by the dentist’s diagnosis and the patient’s desires for their oral health.  Used by the dentist to help the patient restore or maintain optimal oral health.


Unerupted – Tooth or teeth that are present in the jaw or under the gums but have not entered the oral cavity (mouth).


Veneer – see laminate veneer


Whitening – The process of removing stains or discoloration from teeth.


Xerostomia – Dry mouth.  Often caused by decreased salivary (saliva) flow due to medication use or radiation.  It can sometimes be accompanied by a burning sensation.

X-ray – see radiograph