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Dental Terms

Abrasion Damage to the tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing technique, bruxism, grinding or clenching the teeth.
Abscess A localized infection in the bone or soft gum tissues.
Abutment The natural tooth that remains to hold in place a fixed or removable bridge.
Amalgam The most common material used in fillings; also known as “mercury” or “silver”.
Anesthesia An agent that removes the sensation of pain.
Antibiotic A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria.
Autoclave A device used to sterilize instruments with pressurized steam.
Biopsy The removal of a small or whole piece of tissue for microscopic examination.
Bite The way in which the upper and lower teeth meet when closing the mouth.
Bitewing An x-ray that detects tooth decay inbetween the teeth.
Bleaching The whitening of natural teeth.
Bonding The covering of a tooth surface with a composite resin to correct stained, decayed or damaged teeth.
Bridge The prosthetic (false) teeth or row of teeth that spans between two natural teeth.
Bruxism The involuntary grinding of teeth.
Calculus The hard residue that forms on teeth due to plaque or saliva mineral buildup, often stained yellow or brown; also known as “tartar”.
Cap A common term for dental crown.
Caries Tooth decay; common cause of cavities.
Cavities A decay lesion or hole in a tooth that can lead to a root canal if left untreated.
Cosmetic Dentistry The treatments performed to enhance appearance (e.g., teeth whitening, veneers).
Cross Bite A reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth (e.g., underbite).
Crown A porcelain or gold cover (cap) for a decayed, broken, cracked, damaged or discolored tooth.
Curettage The removal of diseased tissue from a periodontal pocket.
Cuspids The large pointed teeth at the corners of the mouth, located between the incisors and bicuspids; also known as “canine” or “eye teeth”. These teeth have very long roots.
DDS The abbreviation for Doctor of Dental Surgery.
Decay Cavity; The destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria.
Dental Implant A titanium cylinder surgically placed in the bone of the upper or lower jaw to provide support for a dental restoration or appliance.
Dentin The inner layer of tooth structure, located in between the surface enamel and the nerve of a tooth.
Dentition The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.
Denture A removable (partial or complete) set of artificial teeth.
Enamel The hard tissue covering the outer portion of tooth above the gum line; Enamel is the hardest bone in the body.
Endodontics The branch of dentistry concerned with the treatment of the dental pulp or nerve of the tooth; the most common procedure is a root canal.
Endodontist A specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the nerve of the tooth.
Extraction The removal of a tooth.
Filling The restoration of lost tooth structure with Amalgam or Composit materials.
Fluoride A naturally occuring element that strengthens enamel, helping teeth resist decay.
Frenectomy 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.
General Anesthesia An agent that removes pain from the body by loss of consciousness or “deep sleep”.
Gingivitis The inflammation of gum tissue; early stage of gum disease.
Gum Recession The exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums from abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.
Halimeter An instrument used in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic halitosis (bad breath).
Halitosis Bad breath.
Heat Sterilization A procedure that kills all microorganisms on instruments when placed into a chamber and the temperature is raised.
Impacted Tooth A tooth that fails to erupt properly and remains fully or partially embedded and covered by bone or gum tissue.
Implant A very common fixed replacement for a missing tooth.
Impression A mold made of the teeth and soft tissues.
Inlay A custom-made cast-gold alloy, composit or porcelain that is cemented to a previously prepared cavity in the tooth.
IV Sedation An anesthesia used for people who want to be asleep during dental procedures.
Jacket A crown for a front tooth, usually made of porcelain.
Laminate A thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth.
Laughing Gas An odorless inhalation agent that produces relative sedation, reduces anxiety and creates a state of relaxation; also known as “nitrous oxide”.
Local Anesthesia An agent that relieves the sensation of pain in a localized area.
Malocclusion A misalignment of the upper and lower teeth; also known as “bad bite”.
Mandible The lower jaw.
Maryland Bridge A bridge that requires a more conservative tooth reduction & is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth.
Molars The back teeth that are designed for grinding food before swallowing.
Mouthguard A removable appliance used to protect teeth from injury during athletic activities.
Nerve (Root) Canal The dental pulp; the internal chamber of a tooth.
Night Guard A removable acrylic appliance used to minimize the effects of grinding the teeth (bruxism) or joint problems (TMD); usually worn at night.
Nitrous Oxide A gas used to reduce patient anxiety; also known as “laughing gas”.
Occlusion Closure; relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure.
Onlay A gold or porcelain inlay extended to cover the cusps for protection of the tooth.
Oral Hygiene The process of maintaining cleanliness of the teeth and related structures.
Oral Sedation Any substance taken orally (i.e., a pill or liquid) to reduce anxiety and relax the patient.
Orthodontics A dental specialty that treats misalignment of teeth; an extended treatment that usually consists of braces or a retainer.
Overbite A vertical overlap of the front teeth.
Palate Roof of the mouth.
Panorex A single full mouth x-ray.
Partial Denture A removable appliance (prosthesis) that replaces some of the teeth in either the upper or lower jaw.
Pediatric Dentistry A dental specialty focusing on treatment of children’s teeth.
Pedodontist A dentist specializing in the treatment of children.
Periodontal Disease The general term for the inflammation or disease affecting the gums.
Periodontics The treatment of diseases of the gum or bone (supporting structure).
Plaque A sticky substance that forms on the surface of the teeth and harbors bacteria growth and acid formation beneath its surface, causing tooth decay; Plaque buildup can irritate the gums and cause periodontal disease.
Porcelain Crown An all-porcelain restoration covering the portion of tooth above the gum line.
Porcelain Veneers A thin layer of porcelain bonded to a natural tooth to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth or change color and/or shape.
Post The thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal therapy; provided retention for a “coping” that replaces lost tooth structure and retains crown.
Prophylaxis The professional cleaning and removal of plaque, stains, and calculus on the teeth.
Prostodontics The restoration of natural teeth and replacement of missing or lost teeth; common procedures are crowns, bridges, dentures and dental implants.
Pulp The nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue inside a tooth.
Quadrant One fourth of the mouth or half of the bottom or top section of the mouth.
Radiograph An image produced on photographic film by radiation, such as x-rays passed through an object; also known as “x-rays”.
Restoration The replacement of the damaged portion of a tooth.
Retainer An appliance for maintaining the positions of the teeth and jaws immediately after the completion of orthodontic treatment.
Root The tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw.
Root Canal A procedure used to save an abscessed tooth in which the pulp chamber is cleaned out, disinfected, and filled with a permanent filling.
Saliva The clear, natural lubricating fluid in the mouth.
Salivary Glands The mouth’s natural receptors, located under the tongue and in cheeks, that produce saliva.
Scaling A treatment for gum disease involving removal of hardened plaque (tartar or calculus) from teeth and underneath the gums.
Sealant A plastic coating applied to grooves and fissures of the teeth to prevent decay on the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
Splint The connection of two or more teeth so they function as a stronger single structure.
Tarter The calcified plaque that forms from mineral salts in the saliva and deposits on the teeth.
TMD Disorders The problems associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) which connects the lower jaw with the skull; typically associated with pops and pain in the joint.
Teeth Whitening A process to lighten the color of teeth.
Ultrasonic Cleaning A cleaning that uses high frequency sound waves to gently remove deposits, such as tartar and stain, from the teeth.
Unerupted Tooth A tooth that has not pushed through the gum.
Veneers The plastic or porcelain facing which is bonded directly to a tooth to improve its appearance, producing a very natural appearance.
Whitening A process that lightens the color of teeth.
Wisdom Teeth The third set of molars, the last teeth to come in, usually erupt at age 18-25.
Xerostomia Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva.