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Dental Glossary

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Abutment: A tooth or implant used to support a prosthesis. A crown unit used as part of a fixed bridge.

Abscess: A localized inflammation due to a collection of pus in the bone or soft tissue. This is usually caused by an infection.

Alloy: A mixture of two or more metals used to repair teeth. There are noble (mostly silver), high noble (mostly gold) and “base” metal alloys. Cost of a filling or crown depends on the alloy selected.

Amalgam: A dental filling material, composed of mercury and other minerals, used to fill decayed teeth.

Alveolus: An opening in the jawbone in which a tooth is attached.

Alveoloplasty: A surgical procedure used to recontour the supporting bone structures in preparation of a complete or partial denture.

Anesthetic: Drugs that eliminate or reduce pain. Also see local anesthetic.

Anterior: Refers to the teeth and tissues located towards the front of the mouth (upper or lower incisors and canines).

Apex: The tip or end of the root of the tooth.

Apicoectomy: The amputation of the apex of a tooth.


Baby Teeth: Also see primary teeth.

Base Metal: The alloys used for partials or crowns, which do not contain precious metals.

Bicuspid: A two-cusped tooth found between the molar and the cuspid.

Biopsy: A process of removing tissue to determine the existence of pathology.

Bitewing X-rays: X-rays taken of the crowns of teeth to check for decay.

Bleaching: The technique of applying a chemical agent, usually hydrogen peroxide, to the teeth to whiten them.

Bonding: A process to chemically etch the tooth’s enamel to better attach (bond) composite filling material, veneers, or plastic/acrylic.

Bone Loss: The breakdown and loss of bone supporting the teeth, usually caused by infection or long-term occlusal (chewing areas of the teeth) stress.

Bridge: A non-removable restoration used to replace missing teeth.

Bruxism: The involuntary clenching or grinding of the teeth.

Buccal: The tooth surface that is next to the cheek. Usually, only posterior teeth touch the cheek, so dentists usually use the term “buccal” when talking about back teeth.


Calculus: A hard deposit of mineralized plaque that forms on the crown and/or root of the tooth. Also referred to as tartar.

Canine Tooth: The second tooth from the big front tooth, commonly called the eye tooth or cuspid.

Cap: Another term for crown. Usually referring to a crown for a front tooth.

Caries: The technical and correct term for decay. The progressive breaking down or dissolving of tooth structure, caused by acid produced when bacteria digest sugars.

Cavity: The common term for tooth decay. Also, the dental term for the hole that is left after decay has been removed.

Cement: A special type of glue used to hold a crown in place. Cement also acts as an insulator to protect the tooth’s nerve.

Cementum: The very thin, bonelike structure that covers the root of the tooth.

Central Incisors: The two large teeth in the middle of the mouth.

Central Tooth: The two upper and two lower teeth in the very center of the mouth.

Cephalometric X-rays: A procedure used to make precise measurements for braces.

Clenching: The forceful holding together of the upper and lower teeth, which places stress on the ligaments that hold the teeth to the jawbone and the lower jaw to the skull.

Complete Denture: replaces all of the upper teeth and/or all the lower teeth.

Complex Rehabilitation: The extensive dental restoration involving 6 or more units of crown and/or bridge in the same treatment plan. Using full crowns and/or fixed bridges that are cemented in place, your dentist will rebuild natural teeth, fill in spaces where teeth are missing and establish conditions that allow each tooth to function in harmony with the occlusion (bite). The extensive procedures involved in complex rehabilitation require an extraordinary amount of time, effort, skill, and laboratory collaboration for a successful outcome.

Composite: A tooth-colored filling made of plastic resin or porcelain.

Consultation: A diagnostic service provided by a dentist other than the treating dentist.

Cosmetic Dentistry: Any dental treatment or repair that is solely rendered to improve the appearance of the teeth or mouth.

Crown: The portion of a tooth that is covered by enamel. Also, a dental restoration that covers the entire tooth and restores it to its original shape.

Crown Lengthening: A surgical procedure exposing more teeth for restorative purposes.

Curettage: A deep scaling of that portion of the tooth below the gum line. The purpose is to remove calculus and infected gum tissue.

Cuspid: Also see canine tooth.

Cusp(s): The protruding portion(s) of a tooth’s chewing surface.


Decay: Also see caries.

Deciduous: Also see primary teeth.

Dental Assistant (DA): No definition.

Dental Floss: A thin, nylon string, waxed or unwaxed, that is inserted between the teeth to remove food and plaque.

Dental Hygienist: A dental professional specializing in cleaning the teeth by removing plaque, calculus, and diseased gum tissue. He/She acts as the patient’s guide in establishing a proper oral hygiene program. Also known as RDH (registered dental hygienist).

Dentin: The part of the tooth that is under both the enamel, which covers the crown, and the cementum, which covers the root.

Denture: A removable appliance used to replace teeth. See also complete denture and partial denture.

D.D.S.: Doctor of Dental Surgery or D.M.D., Doctor of Dental Medicine. Degrees given to dental school graduates. Both degrees are the same; dental schools identify at their discretion graduates as DMD or DDS.

Diagnostic Photographs: Pictures taken to determine treatment, particularly useful for braces.

Diagnostic Cast: A mold of the mouth made by taking an impression of the teeth.

Direct Pulp Cap: The procedure in which the exposed pulp is covered with a dressing or cement that protects the pulp and promotes healing and repair.

D.M.D.: Doctor of Dental Medicine. See also D.D.S.

Dry Socket: A localized inflammation of the tooth socket following an extraction due to infection or loss of a blood clot.


Enamel: The hard, calcified (mineralized) portion of the tooth that covers the crown. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body.

Endodontics: The dental specialty that deals with injuries to or diseases of the pulp, or nerve, of the tooth.

Eruption: A tooth coming through the gum into the oral cavity

Extraction: The removal of a tooth.

Excision: Surgical removal of bone or tissue.

Exostosis: The overgrowth of normal bone.

External Bleach: The use of external bleaching agents to handle tooth discoloration.

Extracoronal: The outside of the crown of the tooth.

Extraoral: The outside of the mouth.

Extraction: The removal of teeth – may be simple or surgical.

Eye Tooth: Also see cuspid.


Filling: Material used to fill a cavity or replace part of a tooth.

First Bicuspid: The teeth behind the cuspids. These teeth have two cusps.

First Molar: The teeth behind the second bicuspid. These teeth also have a level surface with four cusps.

Fistula: A bump or boil on the gum tissue, which is a tract, in which an abscessed tooth can drain. A path by which trapped bacteria can escape from an infected tooth.

Floss: Also see dental floss.

Fluoride: A chemical compound used to prevent dental decay, utilized in fluoridated water systems and/or applied directly to the teeth.

Frenum: Muscle fibers covered by a mucous membrane that attaches the cheek, lips, and or tongue to associated dental mucosa.

Frenectomy: The removal of a frenum.

Full Dentures: Complete replacements for the upper or lower teeth.

Full Mouth X-rays: Twelve to 20 films taken to check on dental diseases.


Gingiva: The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.

Gingivectomy: The removal of gingiva.

Gingivitis: An inflammation or infection of the gingiva; the initial stage of gum disease.

Gingivoplasty: A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva, or gum.

Graft: A piece of tissue or synthetic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.

Gum: See gingiva.

Gum Disease: See periodontal disease.


High Noble Metal: See metals, classification of.


Immediate Denture: A denture constructed for immediate placement after removal of the remaining teeth.

Impacted Tooth: An unerupted or partially erupted tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue so that complete eruption is unlikely.

Impaction, Bony: A condition in which a tooth is unable to erupt normally because it is positioned against a bone.

Impaction, Gingival: A condition in which a tooth is unable to erupt normally because it is positioned against the gum.

Implant: An artificial device, usually made of a metal alloy or ceramic material, that is implanted within the jawbone as a means to attach an artificial crown, denture, or bridge.

Incisors: The four front teeth, referred to as central and lateral incisors, are located in the upper and lower jaws and used to cut and tear food.

Indirect Pulp Cap: A procedure in which the nearly exposed pulp is covered with a protective dressing to protect the pulp from additional injury and to promote healing and repair via the formation of secondary dentin.

Inlay: A cast gold filling that is used to replace part of a tooth.

Internal Bleach: The use of internal bleaching agents on front teeth to address tooth discoloration due to internal causes, such as endodontic treatment (root canal).

Interproximal: The area between two adjacent teeth.

Intracoronal: The area within the crown of a tooth.

Intraoral: The inside of the mouth.


Labial: The area pertaining to or around the lip.

Lateral Incisors: Next to the central incisor, one on each side.

Lateral Tooth: The teeth adjacent to the centrals.

Laughing Gas: Also see nitrous oxide.

Lingual: The area pertaining to or around the tongue.

Local Anesthetic: The injection given in the mouth to numb the areas where a tooth or area needs a dental procedure. Often referred to as novocaine.


Malocclusion: The improper alignment of biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth.

Mandible: The lower jaw.

Margin: The point at which prepared tooth structure ends and the unprepared tooth begins.

Maryland Bridge: The trade name that has become synonymous with any resin-bonded fixed partial denture (bridge).

Mastication: The act of chewing.

Maxilla: The upper jaw.

Metals, Classification of: The noble metal classification system has been adopted as a more precise method of reporting various alloys in dentistry commonly used in crowns, bridges and dentures. These alloys contain varying percentages of Gold, Palladium and/or Platinum. High noble contains more than 60% of Gold, Palladium, and/or Platinum (with at least 40% gold); noble contains more than 25% Gold, Palladium and/or Platinum; predominantly base contains less than 25% Gold, Palladium and/or Platinum.

Molars: The broad, multicusped back teeth, used for grinding food. Considered the largest teeth in the mouth. Adults have a total of twelve molars (including the four wisdom teeth, or third molars), three on each side of the upper and lower jaws.


Night Guard: A plastic mouthpiece to prevent damage from grinding teeth at night.

Nitrous Oxide: A controlled mixture of nitrogen and oxygen gases (N2O) that is inhaled by the patient in order to decrease sensitivity to discomfort. Also referred to as laughing gas.

Non-Vital Tooth: A tooth that contains no living nerve tissue.

Novocaine: A generic name for the many kinds of anesthetics used dental injection, such as Xylocaine, Lidocaine, or Novocaine. See local anesthetic.


Occlusal X-ray: An intraoral x-ray taken with the film held between the teeth in biting position.

Occlusal Surface: The chewing surface of the back teeth.

Occlusion: Any contact between biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth.

Onlay: A cast gold or porcelain filling that covers one or all of the tooth’s cusps.

Oral Surgery: The removal of teeth and the repair and treatment of other oral problems, such as tumors and fractures.

Orthodontics: A specialized branch of dentistry that corrects malocclusion and restores the teeth to proper alignment and function. Several different types of appliances are used in orthodontics, one of which is commonly referred to as braces.

Osseous Surgery: The repair of bone structure supporting teeth damaged by gum disease.

Overbite: A condition in which the upper teeth excessively overlap the lower teeth when the jaw is closed. This condition can be corrected with orthodontics.


Palate: The hard and soft tissues forming the roof of the mouth.

Palliative: Treatment that relieves pain but is NOT curative.

Panoramic X-ray (Panorex): An extraoral full-mouth X-ray that records the teeth and the upper and lower jaws on one film.

Partial Denture: A removable appliance used to replace one or more lost teeth.

Pediatric Dentistry: The specialized branch of dentistry that deals solely with treating children’s dental disease. Also referred to as pedodontics.

Pedicle Soft Tissue Graft: The replacement of damaged gum tissue.

Periapical: The area that surrounds the root tip of a tooth.

Pedodontics: Also see pediatric dentistry.

Pericoronitis: An inflammation of the gum tissue around the crown of a tooth, usually the third molar.

Periodontal: Relating to the tissue and bone that supports the tooth (from peri, meaning “around,” and odont, “tooth”).

Periodontal Disease: The inflammation and infection of gums, ligaments, bone, and other tissues surrounding the teeth. Gingivitis and periodontitis are the two main forms of periodontal disease. Also called gum disease or pyorrhea.

Periodontal Pocket: An abnormal deepening of the gingival crevice. Caused when disease and infection destroy the ligament that attaches the gum to the tooth and the underlying bone.

Periodontal Surgery: A surgical procedure involving the gums and jawbone.

Periodontics: The dental specialty that deals with and treats the gum tissue and bone that supports the teeth.

Periodontitis: Inflammation of the supporting structures of the tooth, including the gum, the periodontal ligament, and the jawbone.

Periradicular: The area that surrounds a portion of the root of the tooth.

Permanent Teeth: The thirty-two adult teeth that replace the primary teeth. Also known as secondary teeth.

Pit: A recessed area found on the surface of a tooth, usually where the grooves of the tooth meet.

Plaque: A film of sticky material containing saliva, food particles, and bacteria that attaches to the tooth surface both above and below the gum line. When left on the tooth it can promote gum disease and tooth decay.

Pontic: An artificial tooth used in a bridge to replace a missing tooth.

Porcelain Laminate Veneer: A thin porcelain shell bonded to the tooth to correct imperfections in shape, color, size, and position of teeth.

Posterior Teeth: The teeth in the back of the mouth (bicuspids and molars).

Premolar: Another name for bicuspid.

Preventive Dentistry: Education and treatment devoted to and concerned with preventing the development of dental disease.

Preventive Treatment: Any action taken by the patient, assisted by the dentist, hygienist, and office staff that serves to prevent dental or other diseases (i.e., sealants, cleanings and space maintainers).

Primary Teeth: The first set of teeth that humans get, lasting until the permanent teeth come in. Also referred to as deciduous teeth or baby teeth.

Prophylaxis: The scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove calculus, plaque, and stains from the crowns of the teeth.

Prosthodontics: The dental specialty dealing with the replacement of missing teeth and other oral structures.

Pulp: The hollow chamber inside the crown of the tooth that contains its nerves and blood vessels.

Pulp Canal: Also see pulp chamber.

Pulp Capping: The use of medicine on decayed areas of teeth to protect pulp and aid in healing.

Pulp Chamber: The very inner part of a tooth containing nerve cells and blood vessels.

Pulpectomy: Removal of the entire pulp from the canals in the root.

Pulpitis: An often painful inflammation of the dental pulp or nerve.

Pulpotomy: The removal of a portion of the tooth’s pulp.


Quadrant: The dental term for the division of the jaws into four parts, beginning at the midline of the arch and extending towards the last tooth in the back of the mouth. There are four quadrants in the mouth; each quadrant generally contains five to eight teeth.


Receded Gums: A condition characterized by the abnormal loss of gum tissue due to infection or bone loss.

Referral: When a dental patient from one office is sent to another dentist, usually a specialist, for treatment or consultation.

Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH): Also see dental hygienist.

Reline: The process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture with a base material.

Replantation: The return of a tooth to its socket.

Resin Filling: The tooth-colored plastic material used in place of alloys for a more natural appearance.

Resorption: Breakdown and assimilation of the bone that supports the tooth (i.e., bone loss).

Restoration: Any material or creation used to replace lost tooth structure (filling, crown) or to replace a lost tooth or teeth (bridge, dentures, complete or partial).

Retainer: A removable dental appliance, usually used in orthodontics, that maintains space between teeth or holds teeth in a fixed position until the bone solidifies around them.

Root: The part of the tooth below the crown, normally encased in the jawbone. It is made up of dentin, includes the root canal, and is covered by cementum.

Root Canal: The hollow part of a tooth’s root. It runs from the tip of the root into the pulp.

Root Canal Therapy: Process of treating disease or inflammation of the pulp or root canal. This involves removing the pulp and root’s nerve(s) and filling the canal(s) with an appropriate material to permanently seal it.

Root Planing: The process of scaling and planing exposed root surfaces to remove all calculus, plaque, and infected tissue.


Scaling: A procedure used to remove plaque, calculus and stains from the teeth.

Sealant: A composite material used to seal the decay-prone pits, fissures, and grooves of children’s teeth to prevent decay.

Second Bicuspid: The teeth behind the first bicuspid. These teeth have two cusps.

Second Molar: The teeth behind the first molars. These teeth have a flat surface with four cusps.

Secondary Teeth: Also see permanent teeth.

Six-Year Molar: The first permanent tooth to erupt, usually between the ages of five and six.

Socket: The hole in the jawbone into which the tooth fits.

Space Maintainer: A dental appliance that fills the space of a lost tooth or teeth and prevents the other teeth from moving into the space. Used especially in orthodontic and pediatric treatment.

Stainless Steel Crown: A pre-made metal crown, shaped like a tooth, which is used to temporarily cover a seriously decayed or broken down tooth. Used most often on children’s teeth.

Subgingival Scaling: The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth below the gum line.

Supra Gingival Scaling: The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth above the gum line.

Systemic: Relating to the whole body.


Tartar: Also see calculus.

Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD): Also see temporomandibular joint syndrome.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ): The connecting hinge mechanism between the upper jaw and the base of the skull.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome: The problems associated with TMJ, usually involving pain or discomfort in the joints and ligaments that attach the lower jaw to the skull or in the muscles used for chewing.

Third Molar: The teeth behind the second molars. These teeth have a level surface with four cusps. Also known as wisdom teeth.

Tooth Surface: One of the five sides of a tooth above the gum line.

Torus: A bony elevation or protuberance of normal bone. It is generally seen on the upper palate located behind the front teeth or under the tongue inside the lower jaw.

Treatment Plan: A list of the work the dentist proposes to perform on a dental patient based on the results of the dentist’s X-rays, examination, and diagnosis. Often more than one treatment plan is presented.

Twelve-Year Molar: Another name for the second molar.


Veneer: An artificial filling material, usually plastic, composite, or porcelain, that is used to provide an aesthetic covering over the visible surface of a tooth. Most often used on front teeth.

Vital Tooth: A tooth that contains living nerve tissue


Wisdom Teeth: Also see third molar.


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