Definitions of Dental Terms
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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 infection due to a collection of pus in the bone or soft tissue caused by severe decay, trauma or gum disease. You may have pain and swelling.
Amalgam: A silver-colored dental filling made of a mix of silver, tin, mercury and some other trace elements like copper. Advantages: placement easier than other materials, cost. Disadvantage: color, breaks down in 10-20 years.
Alveoloplasty: A surgical procedure used to reshape supporting bone structures in preparation of a complete or partial denture.
Anesthetic: A class of drugs that eliminates or reduces pain. See local anesthetic.
Anterior: Refers to the teeth and tissues located toward 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.
Bicuspid: A two-cusped tooth found between the molar and the cuspid also known as an eye tooth or canine tooth.
Biopsy: A process of removing tissue to determine the existence of pathology.
Bite-wing 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: Chemically etching the tooth's enamel, then covering it by painting a layer of plastic on the tooth to correct stained or damaged teeth.
Bone loss: The breakdown and loss of the bone that supports the teeth, usually caused by infection or long-term wear on chewing areas of the teeth.
Bridge: One or more artificial teeth attached, usually on both sides, by crowns to adjacent teeth. It is used to maintain space and function for missing teeth. May be made of gold or porcelain on gold.
Bruxism: Tooth grinding, often caused by stress. Most often done unconsciously at night.
Calculus: The 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 correct technical term for decay which is the progressive breaking down or dissolving of tooth structure, caused by the acid produced when bacteria digest sugars.
Cavity: A layman's 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. It also acts as an insulator to protect the tooth's nerve.
Cementum: The very thin, bonelike structure that covers the root of the tooth.
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.
Complex rehabilitation: The extensive dental restoration involving six or more units of crown and/or bridge in the same treatment plan. Using full crowns and/or fixed bridges which are cemented in place, your dentist then will rebuild natural teeth, fill in spaces where teeth are missing and establish conditions which 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 cover for a decayed or damaged tooth made of porcelain and/or metal.
Crown lengthening: A surgical procedure exposing more tooth for restorative purposes.
Curettage: A deep scaling of that portion of the tooth below the gumline. Purpose is to remove calculus and infected gum tissue.
Cuspid: See canine tooth.
Cusp(s): The protruding portion(s) of a tooth's chewing surface.
Decay: See caries.
Deciduous: See primary teeth.
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.
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. A complete denture replaces all of the upper teeth and/or all the lower teeth. See also 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 – particular dental schools identify at their discretion their graduates as D.M.D. or D.D.S.
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.
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, which 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.
Extraction: The removal of a tooth may be simple or surgical.
Excision: Surgical removal of bone or tissue.
Exostosis: The overgrowth of normal bone.
Extracoronal: The outside of the crown of the tooth.
Extraoral: The outside of the mouth.
Filling: Material used to fill a cavity or replace part of a tooth.
Fistula: A bump or boil on the gum tissue, which is a tract, in which an abscessed tooth can drain.
Floss: See dental floss.
Fluoride: A chemical compound used to prevent dental decay, utilized in fluoridated water systems and/or applied directly to the teeth.
Gingiva: The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.
Gingivectomy: The removal of gingiva (gum).
Gingivitis: An inflammation or infection of the gingiva (gum tissue) caused by plaque and or tarter buildup. Precursor to periodontitis if not treated.
Gingivoplasty: A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva (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: Usually associated with a wisdom tooth, it is a tooth that is submerged under the gum tissue. It may be malpositioned, and may never erupt.
Implant: A titanium cage or screw placed in the bone to replace a lost tooth or teeth. A crown, bridge, or bar and denture can be fixed to the implant(s).
Incisors: The four front teeth referred to as central and lateral incisors, located in the upper and lower jaws and used to cut and tear food. The central incisors are the two large teeth in the middle of the mouth and the lateral incisors are next to the central incisor, one on each side.
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 formation of secondary dentin.
Inlay: A cast gold, porcelain or composite custom-made filling cemented into the tooth that is used to replace part of a tooth. If it covers the tips of the teeth or otherwise supports the tips it is called an onlay.
Interproximal: The area between two adjacent (next to each other) 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.
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.
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 percent of gold, palladium and/or platinum (with at least 40 percent gold); noble contains more than 25 percent gold, palladium and/or platinum; predominantly base contains less than 25 percent gold, palladium and/or platinum.
Molars: The broad, multicusped back teeth, used for grinding food, are considered the largest teeth in the mouth. In adults there are a total of 12 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 pain. Also referred to as laughing gas.
Novocaine: A generic name for the many kinds of anesthetics used in the dental injection, such as Xylocaine, Lidocaine or Novocain. 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. There are several different types of appliances used in orthodontics, one of which is commonly referred to as braces.
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.
Panorex: A full-mouth X-ray (180-degree view) of the teeth, 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.
Periapical: The area that surrounds the root tip of a tooth.
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,” meaning "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. It is 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 support the teeth.
Periodontitis: Advanced gum disease; inflammation of the supporting structures of the tooth, including the gum, the periodontal ligament and the jawbone, causing bone loss resulting in tooth loss if untreated.
Periradicular: The area which surrounds a portion of the root of the tooth.
Permanent teeth: The 32 adult teeth that replace the baby, or 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 gumline. 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.
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, the hygienist and the office staff) that serves to prevent dental or other disease.Sealants, cleanings and space maintainers are examples of preventive treatment.
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 (prophy): Simple cleaning of teeth with rubber wheel and dental toothpaste.
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.
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 toward the last tooth in the back of the mouth. There are four quadrants in the mouth; each quadrant generally contains five to eight teeth.
Rebase: The process of refitting a denture by replacing the base material.
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.
Reline: The process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture with a base material.
Replantation: The return of a tooth to its socket.
Resorption: The breakdown and assimilation of the bone that supports the tooth, i.e., bone loss.
Restoration: Any material or devise 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.
Retrograde filling: A method of sealing the root canal by preparing and filling it from the root tip, generally done at the completion of an apicoectomy.
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 the tooth's root. It runs from the tip of the root into the pulp.
Root canal therapy: The 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 applied to grooves of teeth to prevent decay.
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 premade 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 gumline.
Supragingival scaling: The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth above the gumline.
Systemic: Relating to the whole body.
Tartar: See calculus.
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 last of the three molar teeth, also called wisdom teeth. There are four third molars, two in the lower jaw and two in the upper jaw, one on each side. Some people are born without third molars.
Torus: A bony elevation or protuberance of normal bone. Usually seen on the upper palate 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.
Veneer: An artificial filling material, usually plastic, composite or porcelain, which is used to provide an aesthetic covering over the visible surface of a tooth. Most often used on front teeth.
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