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.
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.
Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing technique, or bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth).
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.
When teeth need to be used to support a bridge, they are called abutment teeth.
Term for dental restorations that involve “bonding” of composite resin or porcelain fillings to natural teeth.
The removal of tooth structure by blasting a tooth with air and an abrasive, which can prevent the need for anesthetic.
Unfavorable systemic response to a foreign substance or drug.
The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth.
A silver/mercury mixture which is used for restoring lost tooth structure.
The American Dental Association.
Bacteria that do not need oxygen to grow and multiply.
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.
A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria.AntisepticA chemical agent which can be applied to living tissues to destroy germs.
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. The term “trench mouth” comes from World War I, when the disorder was common among soldiers. The mouth normally contains a balance of different microorganisms. ANUG occurs when there is an overabundance of normal mouth bacteria resulting in infection of the gums, which develop painful ulcers. Viruses may be involved in allowing the bacteria to overgrow.
The front six teeth, which are also referred to as incisors and cuspids.
The tip of the root of a tooth.
A surgical root canal treatment used to seal the tip of a root when conventional root canal treatment has failed or is contraindicated.
See Canker Sore.
The upper or lower jaw.AttritionThe loss of tooth structure due to wear.
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.
The first set of teeth a human is born with. Also known as deciduous teeth and primary teeth.
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.
Cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the pulp and restore lost tooth structure.
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.
The juncture where the roots of teeth split into two roots.
The removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination.
The relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure, which is also referred to as occlusion.
A type of x-ray used to help diagnose cavities between the back teeth.
The process of lightening teeth.
Surgical replacement of bone in preparation for a dental implant or to cosmetically replace missing bone.
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.
A fixed or removable dental appliance that replaces lost and/or missing teeth.
A habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth that typically occurs during sleep. Approximately 50% to 96% of adults experience bruxism and 15% of children acquire this behavior. Most often, this habit goes unnoticed by the person. Bruxism can occur during the day or night.
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.
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.
The narrow chamber inside the root of the tooth that contains the nerve and blood vessels. Analogous to a wick inside a candle.
The third tooth from the center. Also known as a cuspid.
A small ulceration appearing whitish, often with a red halo, that can last from ten to fourteen days.
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.
Another name for a cavity (tooth decay).
A dental instrument that uses high frequency ultrasonic waves to remove calculus from teeth.
A hard tissue that covers the root of a tooth.
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).
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.
The habit of consciously or subconsciously squeezing the teeth together with extraordinary muscle force. See Bruxism.
A malocclusion where the upper teeth cover the lower teeth when bitting down. This is also called a “deep bite.”
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.
Tooth-colored fillings that are typically completed in one office visit.
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.
Present at birth.
A cosmetic procedure to shape the natural teeth to make them straighter or more youthful.
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.
Pertaining to the head (skull) and face.
A malocclusion where some of the upper teeth are inside of the lower teeth when a person bites down.
An orthodontic problem caused by having too many teeth in too small of a space.
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.
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.
The highest point on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (posterior teeth).
The third tooth from the center of the mouth. These are part of the anterior group. Also known as a canine tooth.
Doctor of Dental Surgery. Equivalent to a DMD degree with the only difference based upon the degree awarded by the school the doctor attended.
The loss of calcium from teeth. This weakens the teeth and makes them more susceptible to decay.DecayDestruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria
The first set of teeth a human is born with. Also known as baby teeth and primary teeth.
The layer of tooth structure under the enamel. This layer is highly sensitive.
The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.
A removable appliance that replaces all or some of the teeth. Can be an upper and/or lower prosthetic.
The process of identifying the nature of a disorder, disease or condition.
A space between two teeth.
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.
A chemical agent that is applied onto inanimate surfaces, for example chairs, to destroy germs.
A cleaning process which destroys most microorganisms, but not highly resistant forms such as bacterial spores or the AIDS virus.
Towards the back of the mouth. For example you would say that the lateral is distal to the central.
Doctor of Medical Dentistry. Equivalent to a DDS degree with the only difference based upon the degree awarded by the school the doctor attended.
When all of the teeth are missing from either the upper and/or lower jaw.
The hard, white outer layer of the tooth that covers and protects the dentin.
The treatment of diseases and/or injuries that affect the root tip and/or pulp (nerve) of the tooth.
Specialist who treats injuries, diseases, and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber).
Process of teeth protruding through the gums and appearing in the mouth.
Means to fall out. The deciduous (baby) teeth exfoliate and permanent teeth erupt into their space.
Outside of the mouth.
The removal of a tooth.
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.
Fellowship of the Academy of General Dentistry
The restoration of lost tooth structure with tooth-colored or metal materials.
The dimple or indentation under the nose directly above the upper lip.
The channel emanating pus from an infection site. Also referred to as a gum boil.
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.
A harmless cosmetic discoloring of the enamel, which appears as chalky white specks and lines or pitted and brown stained enamel on teeth.
Any appliance that is cemented or bonded to the teeth.
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.
The gathering of legal evidence for identification or legal purposes.
The distance between the upper and lower teeth with the lower jaw in rest position, which is typically the position immediately after swallowing.
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.
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.
Surgery of the chin, whereby its shape or size is altered.
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.
Benign changes in the usual color and texture of tongue, which does not require treatment.
Gum tissue, which is pink and firm when it is healthy.
The abnormal enlargement of the gingiva surrounding the teeth caused by poor oral hygiene or some medications.
The surgical removal of gum tissue.
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.
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.
See gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.
A rubber-like material used to fill root canals.
Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin. The majority of bad breath problems begin in the mouth. Bad breath that is of oral cavity origin can be traced to a sulfur compound produced by bacteria. Large amounts of sulfur compounds can be produced in this area, making it a frequent site of origin for bad breath.
The roof of the mouth.
Swelling of effused blood beneath the tissue surface.
A surgical procedure whereby the roots of a tooth are separated and treated as individual teeth.High lip lineWhere the widest smile meets the gum tissue above the teeth.
Disinfecting solution used in dental irrigation procedures or as a mouth rinse.
Dental professional who cleans teeth and provides patient education. They can administer local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, and perform periodontal scaling.
Increased blood flow; may cause dental sensitivity to temperature and sweets, and may precede an abscess.
An unerupted or partially erupted tooth that is stuck in bone because it is obstructed by bone or another tooth.
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.
The biting edge of the centrals and laterals.Incision and Drainage (I and D)A technique used to allow for the drainage of infections.
The central or lateral front teeth with cutting edges. There are four upper (central and lateral) and four lower (central and lateral).
Mold made of the teeth and/or soft tissues. Impressions are used to make crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures, implants, some fillings, and study models.
Local anesthetic procedure effective for upper teeth and soft tissue. Placement of anesthetic is under the gum tissue.
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.
The space between two teeth
Inside the mouth.
A small camera used to view and magnify oral conditions.
Movement of a tooth back into the bone.
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.
The bone that teeth are affixed to.
A protein present in the organic matrix of the enamel of teeth.
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.
The tooth surface next to the lips. Usually refers to the front teeth.
A thin porcelain or composite resin facing that is bonded to teeth.
See nitrous oxide; odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation). Used to reduce anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.
The tooth surface next to the tongue.Local anesthesiaRelieves 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.
A “bad bite” or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth.
The lower jaw.
The upper jaw.
Pertaining to the lower jaw.
The interface between a restoration and tooth structure.
A bridge that is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth, which requires minimum tooth reduction.
To chew food and mix it with saliva.
To move teeth with an applied force so that they extend farther out of the gums.
Towards the front of the mouth. For example a central tooth is mesial to a lateral tooth.
A small or underdeveloped chin.
Smallness of the tongue.
Abnormal smallness of the lower jaw.
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.
The situation when both deciduous (baby) and permanent (adult) teeth are present.
The back teeth with the large chewing surfaces. They typically have from two to four roots and there are first, second and third molars.
Teeth naturally extrude from the bone until there is contact with another tooth.
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.
Also known as “laughing gas.” An odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation). Used to reduce anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.
The chewing surfaces of back teeth.
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.
Any contact between the biting and chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth.
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.
The process of cleaning and maintaining the teeth and related structures.
Dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases.Oral surgerySurgery inside the mouth.
The part of the throat at the back of the mouth.
The dental specialty that focuses on the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws.
A dentist who has been specially trained in orthodontics.
Vertical overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower teeth.
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.
Horizontal projection of upper teeth beyond the lower teeth.
Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth.
Non-invasive relief of irritating conditions.
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.
See Panoramic X-ray.
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.
The region at the end of the roots of teeth.
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.
The area of dentistry that specializes in the treatment of children.
A dentist who specializes in the treatment of children’s teeth.
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.
The periodic cleaning of the teeth, which usually follows periodontal treatment. Also known as a perio prophy or perio recall.
Specialist in treating gum and bone diseases.
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.
The adult first, second and third molars that usually appear in six year increments starting at age 6.Permanent teethThe adult teeth.
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.
Replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance.
A ceramic glass that fuses at high temperatures. This is used in crowns, bridges and veneers to mimic enamel.
Porcelain Fused to Metal (PFM)
Restoration with metal substructure that is covered with porcelain.
Porcelain Inlay or Onlay
A tooth-colored restoration made of porcelain, which is cemented or bonded in place.
Ultra-thin, custom-made facings that are bonded to teeth to enhance and restore function and/or appearance. Veneers can be used to treat chipped, worn, crooked, and/or discolored teeth.
Post and Core
Post and buildup to replace lost tooth structure for the purpose of retaining a crown.
Prescription medicine taken before a dental appointment either to prevent infection in susceptible patients or to provide comfort for anxious patients.
The baby teeth, which are also known as the deciduous teeth.
The anticipated outcome of treatment.
The process of cleaning teeth, which is also known as a prophy.
An artificial appliance for the replacement for a body part.
A fixed or removable appliance to replace missing teeth. Fixed bridges, removable partials, and dentures are all examples.
The branch of dentistry concerned with the construction of artificial appliances designed to restore and maintain oral function by replacing missing teeth and sometimes other oral structures or parts of the face. Prosthodontics is one of the nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA).
Dental specialist skilled in restoring or replacing teeth with fixed or removable prosthesis, maintaining proper occlusion; treats facial deformities with artificial prostheses such as eyes, ears, and noses.
Refers to the surfaces of teeth that touch the next tooth; the space between adjacent teeth is the interproximal space.
The inside part of the tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. This is removed during a root canal procedure.
Covering an exposed or nearly exposed nerve with a sedative material prior to restoring the tooth.
Complete removal of the pulp, which is commonly done in diseased children’s teeth.
Partial removal of the pulp tissue, which is commonly done in diseased children’s teeth.
Inflammation of the pulp.
One of the four equal sections into which the dental arches can be divided; begins at the midline of the arch and extends backwards to the last tooth.
Another name for an x-ray.
A condition whereby the gums pull away from the tooth, which makes the tooth look longer since more of the tooth is exposed. This can be caused by buildup of plaque and/or poor brushing habits.
A thin metal or glass fiber-reinforced bridge which usually requires slight modification of the adjacent teeth.
See composite filling.
Replacement of a portion of a damaged tooth.
Procedures performed to restore the missing part of the teeth. Some insurance companies only consider fillings to be restorative; others consider fillings, crowns, bridges, and dentures to be restorative.
Partial root structure remaining in jaw after extraction or fracture of a natural tooth.
Typically a removable appliance designed to hold teeth in a fixed position.
Acrylic restoration of denture base to compensate for bone loss. Depending upon the case, relines can either be done in the office or in coordination with a dental laboratory.
Tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw.
The common term for root canal therapy, which is also the interior space of the tooth root.
Root Canal Therapy
The nerve of the tooth is removed from the canal inside the root and replaced with a sterilized filling material.
Deep cleaning of the teeth to remove calculus (tartar) below the gumline. This is a periodontal procedure and is usually performed one quadrant at a time.
The removal of a portion of diseased root structure whose purpose is to retain the remaining natural tooth structure.
A thin rubber barrier applied to teeth to isolate them to control moisture during dental procedures.
Clear lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells, and undigested food particles.
Located under tongue and in the cheeks whose purpose is to produce saliva.
Scraping of the teeth above the gums.
A special material applied to the tooth surface that acts as a barrier to prevent bacteria and food from leading to decay on the surface of teeth.
A procedure to add bone in the sinus area to allow the placement of dental implants.
Air filled cavities in our skulls above our upper teeth, between the eyes, and between the eyebrows. Sinus infections are a common source of facial pain and headaches that can be confused with dental pain from upper back teeth.
Inflammation in the sinus cavities, of which there are four in human skull. The largest of the sinuses is the maxillary sinus, located just above the roots of the upper molars. A pressure causing infection in this area can be mistaken for tooth pain.
An autoimmune disease characterized by dryness of the mouth, eyes, and other mucous membranes. The lack of saliva allows cavities to become a serious problem.
The periodic interruption or delay in breathing during sleep.
The muscular, movable part of the roof of the mouth.
An appliance used to maintain a space in the mouth. A space maintainer is typically used due to the premature loss one of a baby tooth to retain the space of the tooth that was lost until a permanent tooth erupts.
Connection of two or more teeth so they function as a stronger single structure.
Stainless Steel Crowns
Silver colored crowns often used to restore heavily damaged baby molars and, occasionally, adult molars when a more long term crown is not an economic option.
A process where instruments are treated to remove all possible germs.
Exact models of teeth made from plaster that are used for determining treatment options.
Some people are born with extra teeth, which are called “supernumerary teeth.”
Another name for calculus, which is the sticky film on teeth (plaque) that has hardened.
Insurance company, union, or government agency that pays all or a part of cost of dental treatment.
A large muscle on the floor of the mouth that manipulates food for chewing and swallowing; the main organ of taste; it assists in forming speech sounds.
Locally applied medication that produces mild anesthesia when applied to tissue surface.
Gum disease characterized by severe mouth sores and loss of tissue. See ANUG.
The juncture where the roots of teeth split into three roots.
An abbreviation for the “temporomandibular joint,” which is the joint where the lower jaw connects to the skull.ToriMore than one torus.TorusA common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw.
Usual, customary and reasonable.
When the lower teeth are forward of the upper teeth. This could be due to either an underdeveloped upper jaw or an overdeveloped lower jaw.
A tooth that has not pushed through the gum and assumed its correct position in the dental arch.UnilateralAffecting only one side.
The small, cone-shaped fleshy tissue suspended in the mouth from the middle of the back edge of the soft palate.
Veneers (Porcelain or Composite)
Ultra-thin, custom-made facings bonded to teeth to enhance and restore function and/or appearance. Veneers can be used to treat chipped, worn, crooked, and/or discolored teeth.
Arbitrary space between upper and lower jaws upon closure; may decrease over time due to wear, shifting or damage to the teeth.
A procedure to lighten a tooth that has darkened. The darkening can occur as a result of trauma and/or root canal treatment. A medicine is placed inside the tooth via the opening made for the root canal.
A wax form that is made to resemble a tooth or a partial denture that is then cast in metal.
The process of lightening discolored or stained teeth. Treatment can be in-office or at-home.
These are the last teeth to erupt into the mouth and they usually appears around age 18, which is how they got their name. Wisdom teeth are often impacted (obstructed from erupting), and are usually extracted.
Dry mouth caused by medication, radiation, or malfunctioning salivary glands.
A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of teeth, tissues, and bone onto film.
A high intensity light system that is used to lighten teeth at a dental office.
A quadrangular bone on either side of face that forms the cheek prominence (see malar).