Dental Topics

General Dental Terminology

A working knowledge of dental terms can be helpful not only for you, but also for ensuring your child understands his or her dental care. We’ve selected several common terms and defined them. Of course, we’re happy to answer any question you have. Just give us a call.

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  • Abrasion

    a wearing away of the tooth’s outer covering and caused by forces other than chewing. Toothpicks, improper brushing and dental retainers are common causes of abrasion.

  • Abscess

    an infection caused by severe tooth decay, trauma or gum disease. Bacteria enters the tooth through openings in the tooth enamel and infects the pulp. It is important to catch the infection before it enters the root and bones supporting the tooth.

  • Amalgam

    a safe, affordable and durable material that is used to restore (fill) a tooth that has been impacted by decay.

  • Anesthesia

    local anesthesia- numbs the teeth and gums to prevent you from feeling discomfort during dental treatment.

  • Anesthetic

    a drug used by your doctor to eliminate a patient’s localized pain during certain dental procedures.

  • Anterior Teeth

    the teeth in the front of your mouth. Often referring to the incisors and canine teeth.

  • Antiseptic

    an agent that can be applied to living tissues to destroy germs. In most dental practices, antiseptics are topical agents used to inhibit the growth and development of microorganisms.

  • Apex

    the very tip of the root of the tooth.

  • Bicuspid

    a premolar tooth; a tooth with two cusps in the back between the cuspids (canines) and molars.

  • Bleaching agent

    a gel used to whiten and brighten teeth.

  • Bonding

    refers to how a filling or orthodontic appliances are attached to teeth.

  • Bruxism

    the clenching or grinding of teeth, most commonly while sleeping.

  • Calculus

    the hardened plaque that can form on neglected or prone teeth, commonly known as tartar.

  • Canine

    the pointy teeth just behind the laterals.

  • Caries

    another name for cavities or decay.

  • Cavity

    defect or hole in tooth caused by decay.

  • Central Incisor

    the two upper or lower teeth in the center of the mouth.

  • Cleft Lip

    birth defect in which one or more fissures form in the upper lip, which takes place while the fetus is growing.

  • Cleft Palate

    congenital deformity resulting in lack of fusion of the soft and/or hard palate, either partial or complete.

  • Crown

    an artificial tooth or cover made of zirconia, composite or metal.

  • Cuspid

    the pointy teeth just behind the laterals, also known as canines.

  • Cyst

    pathological cavity, usually lined with epithelium, containing fluid or soft matter.

  • Decalcification

    the loss of calcium from the teeth.

  • Deciduous Teeth

    also called “baby teeth”.

  • Dental Implants

    an implant permanently attached to the jawbone that replaces a missing permanent tooth or teeth.

  • Dental Sealants for Kids

    find an in-depth look at sealant information on our Frequently Asked Questions page here.

  • Dentin

    the part of the tooth that is beneath the enamel and cementum.

  • Enamel

    the hard surface of the tooth above the gum line.

  • Endodontist

    a dentist who specializes in root canals and the treatment of diseases and infections of the dental pulp (inner tooth).

  • Erosion

    wearing down the tooth structure, caused by chemicals (acids).

  • Eruption

    when a tooth emerges or pushes through the gums.

  • Extraction

    the removal of a tooth or teeth.

  • Filling

    a metal or composite material used to fill a tooth cavity.

  • Fixed Appliance

    orthodontic devices, commonly known as braces, that are bonded to the teeth to produce different tooth movements to help reposition teeth for orthodontic therapy.

  • Fluoride

    a compound that contains fluorine, a natural element. Inhibits loss of minerals from tooth enamel and encourages re-mineralization (strengthening areas that are weakened or beginning to develop cavities).

  • Fracture

    the breaking of a part, especially of the bony structure; breaking of a tooth.

  • Gingiva

    soft tissues overlaying the crowns of unerupted teeth and encircling the necks of teeth that have erupted.

  • Gingivitis

    inflammation of gums around the roots of the teeth.

  • Graft

    a piece of tissue or alloplastic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.

  • Gums

    the firm tissue that surrounds the roots of the teeth.

  • Impacted Tooth

    often occurring with wisdom teeth, it is a tooth that sits sideways below the gum line, often requiring extraction.

  • Incisor

    one of the flat, sharp-edged teeth in the front of the mouth.

  • Lateral Incisor

    these are the teeth adjacent to the central incisors.

  • Lesion

    an injury or wound; area of diseased tissue.

  • Lingual

    pertaining to or around the tongue; surface of the tooth directly toward the tongue: opposite of facial.

  • Malocclusion

    improper alignment of upper and lower teeth.

  • Maxilla

    the upper jaw.

  • Molar

    teeth posterior to the premolars (bicuspids) on either side of the jaw; they have large crowns and broad chewing surfaces.

  • Mouth guard

    a device that fits over the teeth to prevent injury to the teeth, mouth or lips. May also refer to a device that prevents tooth grinding or treats temporomandibular disorders.

  • Night guard

    a plastic mouthpiece worn at night to prevent grinding of the permanent teeth.

  • Nitrous Oxide

    along with oxygen is a blend of gases that provide safe effective sedative agent to calm children’s fear of the dental visit.

  • Occlusion

    any contact between biting and chewing surfaces of maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth.

  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

    a dental specialist whose practice is limited to the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities and esthetic aspects of the oral and maxillofacial regions.

  • Orthodontist

    a dental specialist whose practice is limited to the interception and treatment of malocclusion of the teeth and their surrounding structures.

  • Pedodontist

    also known as a pediatric dentist, a dentist that specializes in the treatment of infants, children and teens.

  • Periodontist

    a dental specialist whose practice is limited to the placement of dental implants, cosmetic oral plastic surgery and reconstructive and regenerative therapy.

  • Plaque

    a sticky buildup of acids and bacteria that causes tooth decay.

  • Posterior Teeth

    the teeth in the back of the mouth.

  • Primary Teeth

    also known as “baby teeth” or deciduous teeth.

  • Prosthodontist

    a dentist specializing in the restoration and replacement of missing teeth or severely damaged teeth.

  • Pulp

    connective tissue that contains blood vessels and nerve tissues which occupies the pulp cavity of the tooth.

  • Pulpotomy/Pulpectomy

    removal of a portion of the pulp with the aim of maintaining vitality of the remaining portion by means of an adequate dressing.

  • Radiograph

    an image produce by projecting radiation, as x-rays. Commonly called an x-ray.

  • Resorb

    to dissolve.

  • Retainer

    an appliance to stabilize teeth following orthodontic treatment.

  • Root

    the portion of the tooth below the gum line.

  • Root Canal

    cleaning out and filling the inside nerve of the tooth.

  • Scaling

    removal of plaque, calculus and stain from teeth.

  • Sealant

    plastic coating applied to molars (back teeth) to prevent decay.

  • Secondary Teeth

    the permanent teeth.

  • Sedation Dentistry

    sedation is the use of medication to make your child very calm for a procedure, but not sound asleep. Our pediatric dentist may recommend sedation dentistry for long or multiple procedures, for children with a high fear of dental care, those who have special needs, or children who find it difficult to sit still.

  • Six-Year Molar

    commonly known as “the first permanent molar”.

  • Sleep Apnea

    a potentially serious disorder in which a sleeping person may stop breathing for 10 seconds or more, often continuously throughout the night.

  • Suture

    stitch used to repair an incision or wound.

  • Tartar

    see calculus

  • Tooth Whitening

    a process designed to whiten and brighten teeth.

  • Twelve-Year Molar

    commonly known as “the second permanent molar”.

  • Unerupted

    tooth/teeth that have not penetrated into the oral cavity.

  • Veneer

    a plastic, porcelain or composite material used to improve the attractiveness of a stained or damaged tooth.