Dental Glossary 


This guide breaks down the dental professional terminology into everyday language



When the inside of the mouth gets hurt or irritated, bacteria may enter and cause an infection. Sometimes you will see a painful swelling filled with pus (a thick, yellowish fluid). If the pus can't drain out, the area will get more swollen and painful. This is known as an abscess. The abscess forms a barrier around the infection. This is one way that the body tries to keep a bacterial infection from spreading.

Acrylic Resin

A hard, glassy form of plastic often used with other materials to create custom orthodontics, fillings and dentures.

Advanced Periodontitis

In this final stage of gum disease, the fibers and bone supporting the teeth are destroyed, which can cause teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect the bite and, if aggressive treatment can't save them, teeth may need to be removed.


An inexpensive filling material made from silver, tin, zinc, copper and mercury. Mercury is nearly 50 percent of the mixture. This material is strong, but can tarnish or corrode over time.


A numbing agent that dulls pain in all or part of the mouth during dental work. This drug is injected in the cheek or gums and can last for hours.


Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

A form of tooth decay caused by constant sucking on a baby bottle. When a child is allowed to sip a baby bottle throughout the day without interruption, the sugars and carbohydrates provide an unending source of food for the bacteria that cause cavities.

Bad Breath

Foul-smelling breath, usually caused by the breakdown of food. Other culprits include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting.


Also called premolars, these teeth have two pointed cusps on their biting surface. The premolars are for crushing and tearing.


The overall alignment of teeth. This includes how the upper and lower jaw fit together and spacing between teeth and lips. Most irregularities can be fixed through orthodontics for comfort or appearance.


Bonding is the application of a tooth-colored composite resin (plastic) to repair a decayed, chipped, fractured or discolored tooth. Unlike veneers, which are manufactured in a laboratory and require a customized mold to achieve a proper fit, bonding can be done in a single visit. The procedure is called bonding because the material bonds to the tooth.


An appliance used to gradually move teeth into their proper alignment. Wires are bonded to the teeth and tightened over time to align the teeth. Braces are usually adjusted monthly to bring about the desired results, which may be achieved within a few months to a few years.


A fixed but removable denture made to replace one or more missing teeth. Bridges can be supported by natural teeth, implants or a combination of teeth and implants.


Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes helps to remove food particles that can damage teeth and gums over time.


The grinding or clenching of teeth, sometimes during sleep. Many believe this grinding is caused by stress or anxiety, but it can also occur due to misaligned teeth, disease or medicines.



Sometimes called cuspids, these teeth at the front of the mouth are shaped like points (cusps) and are used for tearing food.

Canker Sore

Swellings, spots or sores on the mouth, lips or tongue. Unlike cold sores, these are not contagious and are usually caused by stress, allergies or vitamin deficiencies.


A tooth-shaped crown cemented into place over a tooth, completely encasing the visible portion of the tooth. Caps improve the shape, size, strength and appearance of a tooth.

Cast Gold

A gold alloy used to replace or fill teeth. Cast gold is more expensive and can create a shock when two gold teeth are next to each other in the mouth.


Tooth decay caused by bacteria that break down sugar into acid. Early decay, called dental caries, can be prevented with fluoride.



Porcelain, most commonly used for inlays/onlays and crowns. Ceramics are tooth-colored, but more brittle than composite resin.



Checkups almost always include a complete cleaning, either from a dentist or a dental hygienist. Using special instruments, a dental hygienist will scrape below the gumline, removing built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. The dentist or hygienist may also polish and floss your teeth.

Cleft Palate

Structures of the palate have not properly closed, leaving an opening in the roof of the mouth. This can be inherited from one or both parents or caused by environmental issues during pregnancy, such as smoking, alcohol or drug use, consumption of prescription medications, virus exposure or nutritional deficiency.

Cold Sore

Cold sores and fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This virus is passed from person to person by saliva (either directly or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by skin contact. Cold sores usually appear as clusters of tiny blisters on the lip. Most people are first infected with HSV-1 before they are 10 years old.

Composite Resin

A mixture of plastic and fine glass particles used for fillings. This filling type is midrange in price, tooth-colored and fairly strong.

Cosmetic Dentistry

This form of dentistry improves the appearance of teeth. This includes procedures like whitening, bonding and orthodontics.

Cracked Tooth Syndrome

Cracks that are too small to show up on X-rays. Sometimes the cracks are under the gum. The tooth may hurt sometimes when biting or chewing.


A crown is a tooth-shaped cover placed over a tooth that is badly damaged or decayed. A crown is made to look like the tooth. Many people call it a cap. A crown is also the name for the very top surface of a tooth.


These teeth near the front of the mouth are shaped like points (cusps) and are used for tearing food. They are also called canines.


Dental Composites

A synthetic resin used to restore or adhere teeth. These composites may include a mixture of plastic and glass fiber.

Dental Grills

A cosmetic, metal and sometimes jeweled tooth covering developed in the 1980s by hip-hop artists. This removable accessory can cause damage to the teeth when not properly maintained or professionally crafted.

Dental Implant

Dental implants are metal posts or frames that are surgically positioned into the jawbone beneath the gums. Once in place, they allow the dentist to mount replacement teeth onto them.

Dental Sealants

Dental sealants are plastic coatings that are usually placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth - the molars and premolars - to help protect them from decay.


The porous layer of the tooth that protects the nerve. When this layer is exposed it can cause tooth sensitivity.


Replacements for missing teeth that can be taken out and put back into the mouth. Available in full or partial sets, today's dentures look natural and feel comfortable.

Diabetes & Other Endocrine Disorders

A disorder that inhibits the body's ability to use blood sugar. Research shows that there is an increased prevalence of gum disease among diabetics.



A space or gap between two teeth. It appears most often between the two upper front teeth. However, gaps can occur between any two teeth.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is the condition of not having enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. Without enough saliva, tooth decay or other infections can develop in the mouth. You also might not get the nutrients you need if you cannot chew and swallow certain foods.

Dry Socket

Painful exposed bone or nerve in the space where an extracted tooth used to reside. This occurs when a blood clot forms in the socket, then breaks down or is dislodged. A dentist should be contacted if you believe you have a dry socket.



The branch of dentistry that deals with diseases of the tooth's pulp. A dentist specializing in endodontics performs surgeries such as root canals.


Wearing away of the enamel due to a chemical acid process. This acid could be gastric or from diet.


Fever Blister

Cold sores and fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This virus is passed from person to person by saliva (either directly or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by skin contact. Cold sores usually appear as clusters of tiny blisters on the lip. Most people are first infected with HSV-1 before they are 10 years old.


A way to restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape. When a dentist gives you a filling, he or she first removes the decayed tooth material, cleans the affected area, and then fills the cleaned out cavity with a filling material.


Using a special thread-like material to remove plaque and food particles in places where a toothbrush cannot easily reach — under the gumline and between your teeth. Because plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, daily flossing is highly recommended.


A natural mineral found in water and Earth's crust. Helps prevent cavities by hardening the enamel.


White or brown spots on the enamel caused by consuming too much fluoride while teeth are forming. Fluorosis does not develop after teeth have erupted and is a purely cosmetic condition.



Inflamed gum tissue caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Mild gingivitis causes little or no pain. You might not notice it. If left unchecked, however, it can become severe. In some people, gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss.

Glass Lonomer

An acrylic and glass component used to cement inlays or as filling material. Glass ionomer matches the color of teeth but is weaker than composite resin fillings.

Gold Foil

Used for small fillings in areas where you don’t chew hard. Sometimes used for repairing crowns. Gold foil requires great skill to place and does not match teeth, so it is quickly moving out of popularity.

Gum Disease

An inflammation of the gum tissue that could affect the teeth and supporting bone. Plaque bacteria, acids and certain foods contribute to the development of gum disease.

Gum Recession

The edge of the gum tissue moves away from the tooth crown. The edge of the gingival tissue moves away from the crown of the tooth, exposing the tooth root and causing sensitivity.


Where the tooth and the gums meet. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque and tartar can build up at the gumline, leading to gingivitis and gum disease.



The professional term for bad breath. Can be caused by poor dental hygiene, infection, diet, dry mouth or illness.


A licensed dental professional, trained to clean teeth, take x-rays and perform other services.


Painful tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet and acidic foods and drinks. Typically caused by exposed root areas of the tooth.


Impacted Tooth

Teeth that fail to emerge through the gums, or emerge only partially, at the expected time. This usually occurs with wisdom teeth between 17 and 21 years old.


A form of the teeth typically used to create orthodontic appliances. The laboratory uses a soft material that sets into a gel to make a copy of the teeth, which is sent back to the dentist.


The sharp, chisel-shaped front teeth (four upper, four lower) used for cutting food.



The medical term for the lower jaw that connects to the temporal bone at the side of the head.


Rear teeth used for grinding. These teeth have several cusps on the biting surface.

Mouth-Body Connection

The idea that what goes on in the mouth can affect the health of the body. An immune system weakened by disease can affect the health of the mouth, for example.

Mouth Guards

An appliance placed around the teeth like a tray to protect the teeth, jaw, lips and tongue. It may also reduce the rate and severity of concussions.



An element of the tooth pulp that senses pain. The nerve is in the center of the tooth and can be exposed when the enamel is weakened.

Night Guard

A plastic bit piece used at night to prevent tooth grinding. A dentist can custom-make a guard if you experience grinding problems.


Oral Cancer

A form of cancer usually found on the inside of the mouth. This cancer is characterized by sores that will not heal and sometimes bleed.

Oral Hygiene

Daily oral care for the health of the mouth and teeth. Good oral hygiene includes brushing, flossing, eating healthy foods and regular trips to the dentist.

Oral Piercing

A form of self-expression characterized by the piercing of tongue, lips or cheeks with jewelry. These piercings carry risks beyond normal ear piercing.


Orthodontics is a specialty field of dentistry that diagnoses, prevents and treats irregularities of the teeth and face, including the position of teeth and jaws. Orthodontic care involves the use of appliances.


A dentist specializing in the field of orthodontics who treats irregularities in the teeth and face. An orthodontist will diagnose and create appliances for the teeth to correct these irregularities.


A condition, sometimes called "buck teeth," in which the upper front teeth lie too far forward (stick out) over the lower teeth. This can be corrected by an orthodontist.


Periodontal Disease

Ranges from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth.


Untreated gingivitis. A serious infection characterized by swollen, tender gums. Periodontitis destroys tissue and bone. This disease could eventually lead to tooth loss.


Invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth. Plaque can lead to gum disease and destroy gum tissue and teeth.


A filling material that can be matched to the color of the tooth and resists staining. Porcelain fillings are priced nearly the same as gold.

Porcelain Crown

A tooth-shaped cover placed over a tooth that is badly damaged or decayed. Porcelain crowns are made before placement in a laboratory and matched to the appearance of your teeth.


Also referred to as bicuspids, these teeth have two points and are used for crushing and tearing. Premolars are located directly ahead of the molars.


The soft tissue in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain.


Ramus-Frame Implant

A type of implant used if the lower jawbone is too thin for other implants. This type of implant leaves a visible, thin metal bar around the top of the gum.


Regaining the minerals lost inside the enamel crystals through fluoride. These minerals are lost through bacteria feeding on the sugars in the mouth and creating acids.


A removable appliance worn to maintain tooth positions after treatment is completed and braces are removed. Once the bite has been corrected, bone and gums need more time to stabilize around the teeth.


The part of the tooth that is embedded in bone. The root makes up about two-thirds of the tooth that holds the tooth in place.

Root Canal

A treatment to remove damaged or diseased tooth pulp. Once removed, the remaining space is cleaned and the tooth is sealed off.

Root-Form Implant

A titanium device surgically implanted into the jawbone to replace the roots of missing teeth. These implants support crowns, bridges and dentures.

Root Planing

Smoothing the tooth's root surfaces to make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate. This typically follows scaling to treat periodontal disease.



Also called spit, this substance helps in digestion, protects teeth and prevents infection. Saliva also makes it possible to chew and swallow food.


A technique for removing plaque, biofilm and tartar from teeth and below the gumline. This can help reverse the effects of gum disease.


Plastic coatings that are usually placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth — the molars and premolars — to help protect them from decay.

Space Maintainers

An appliance used when a baby tooth is lost too early. This device helps make room for the permanent tooth to enter.



Plaque that has hardened on the teeth. Tartar can form at and underneath the gumline and damage the teeth and gums.


The period of time when a baby's primary teeth erupt. During the first few years of life, all 20 teeth will erupt through the gums, which can cause irritability and discomfort.

Temporomandibular Syndrome

A disorder in which the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw isn't working properly. This can cause headaches, clicking sounds, pain and locked jaw.


A mouth infection common in babies caused by the overgrowth of Candida fungus. This can be caused by a mother's yeast infection during delivery or antibiotics at an early age.


A disorder in which the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw isn't working properly. This can cause headaches, clicking sounds, pain and locked jaw.


A small calcified structure found in the jaw used to crush and tear food so that it can be swallowed.

Tooth Decay

Acid erosion of the tooth enamel, causing demineralization that can move into the pulp of the tooth if not treated with fluoride or a filling.

Tooth Discoloration

When stains on the surface or changes in the tooth material change the color of the tooth. These include extrinsic, intrinsic and age-related discoloration.

Tooth Extraction

The removal of a broken or decayed tooth from the socket in the bone. When too much damage prevents repair, the tooth must be removed.

Tooth Sensitivity

When hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods, drinks or air make teeth sensitive to pain. Sensitivity is usually caused by exposed dentin due to receded gums or periodontal disease.

Tooth Whitening

A process for lightening teeth and removing stains and discoloration. Whitening must be maintained over time.

Transosseous Implant

A dated form of implant originally used in people with little lower jawbone. It is rarely used today because extensive surgery is required.



A "bulldog" appearance where the lower teeth are too far forward or the upper teeth are too far back.



Thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of the teeth to improve appearance. These can be used to fix chipped, stained, misaligned, worn-down or abnormally spaced teeth.


Wisdom Teeth

The final molars to emerge at the back of the jaw, sometimes with little space left to emerge. This can cause tenderness, swelling, pain and disease. Many people choose to have these teeth removed.



A type of energy that passes through soft tissues and is absorbed by dense tissue. Often used by dentists to see the teeth and roots in the jaw.