Dental Dictionary


Aka gum boil; when an infected tooth swells and drains into the surrounding gums a “pimple” may form and drain- this is a serious sign of infection and needs to be addressed by a dentist; If the infection cannot drain the pressure of the swelling will increase and cause pain and discomfort, this infection is referred to as an abscess.


Bridge abutment- when a missing tooth is being replaced with a bridge, a real tooth that the bridge sits on is called the abutment tooth Implant abutment- this implant part is screwed into the implant body (part in the bone) and is what the crown or tooth will slide onto.


Plastic component to an orthodontic retainer or a denture or partial.

Alginates an impression material that is used to make models of teeth; these are used when we want to communicate with a lab or the patient about what we are doing to the teeth.


Aka silver filling; metal filling made of a mixture of silver, copper, tin and mercury.


Medicine that is applied around the tooth or jaw to temporarily numb the teeth long enough to perform dental treatment without sensitivity to the patient.


When a tooth is directly in contact with the bone and the periodontal ligament is missing; an ankylosed tooth is more difficult to remove.


The front region .


An antimicrobial substance that is applied to living tissue to reduce the risk of infection.

Apex- generally in dentistry this term refers to the tip of a tooth root; it is the site where the nerves and blood vessels enter the pulpal canal of a tooth.

Aphthous ulcer

Aka “cancer sore”; these ulcers can occur anywhere inside the mouth but are generally on the inside of the lips, tongue, cheek, and floor of the mouth; they are caused by stress, trauma, hormones, an immunologic defect, among other causes, and they can be treated with medication but often go away on their own after 7-10 days.


An instrument that is used to mount study models and replicate the angulation of the upper and lower jaws on a patient; this is used to plan dental treatment.


This word means both sides.


The bacteria in our mouth create a layer of plaque on our teeth and this is called a biofilm.


The surface of a tooth that faces the cheek.


When an area of tissue has an abnormality that does not go away within 2 weeks, a small piece of this area may be removed to send to a pathologist; the pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope and determines exactly what the abnormality is Bitewing x-ray: an x-ray that shows between teeth used to identify cavities and monitor bone levels between teeth.


Aka Core Buildup; when a tooth is prepared for a crown and old fillings, cavities, or root canal accesses cause there to be undercuts or missing pieces, a filling material is used to fix these before the crown is made in order to provide strong support for the crown.


When a tooth is missing and there are teeth on each side of the space, a crown can be placed on each of these teeth with a false tooth fused in the middle; this is one solid piece & it is cemented onto the real teeth; the outer teeth are called abutments and the middle fake tooth is called a pontic.


Grinding of teeth by the patient; Many of our patients are unaware that they are causing damage to their teeth via grinding until we tell them of the damage we see on their teeth. Most times the grinding is done at night, patients do it while they sleep, and even bedmates cannot always hear it being done.


When minerals from our saliva mix with plaque it hardens around our teeth and is difficult to remove with brushing and flossing; this is what the hygienist removes at your cleaning appointment.


A cavity in a tooth.


An ultrasonic instrument that is used to help clean off calculus and flush out plaque from around our teeth at your cleaning visit.


When bacteria cause destruction of tooth structure these are cavities; they are caused from the acid that the bacteria produce after processing the sugars in our diet.


The thin layer of tooth structure which covers the roots of the tooth.


A computer assisted device which is used to fabricate all porcelain restorations; using this new technology, patients often don’t have to come back for a second delivery appointment when getting crowns, onlays, and inlays; instead of taking impressions using trays and uncomfortable materials, a picture is taken with a small scanner and the computer reads the images in 3-D to make the restoration.


A prescription-strength antibacterial mouthrinse that may be prescribed after deep cleanings or if severe gingivitis is present.


A metal portion of a removable partial denture that hooks around a tooth for retention.


Aka white filling; a filling material made from a mixture of glass or quartz particles in a resin base.


The boney part of our lower jaw that is located in front of our ears; the condyle slides along the base of our skull and has a disc (the meniscus) that works as a cushioning device.


To be born with.

Craze line

Minor cracks in the enamel of a tooth.


In a normal bite, the upper teeth overlap the lower teeth but if there is a crossbite, the lower teeth stick out over the upper teeth.


Aka cap; a solid covering for a tooth to splint the remaining tooth structure together or to fix a broken or badly damaged tooth; crowns can also be used to cosmetically change a tooth’s shape or size.


The use of a curette instrument to remove tissue by scraping or scooping.


The pointed part of a tooth which is used to grind up our food; the back molars have the most cusps and the front incisors don’t have any.


Another name for the canine tooth; these teeth only have one cusp (or point) and are used for tearing foods in our diet.


A closed sac having a distinct lining and division from the nearby tissue; a cyst may contain air, fluid, or other material.


A space between teeth.


The surface of a tooth that touches the tooth behind it.

Deciduous teeth

Another name for primary or baby teeth.


When a patient comes in for a cleaning and has too much buildup of calculus around the teeth to accurately perform a comprehensive exam, a gross (large) debridement may be performed before a simple cleaning can be done.


When there are no remaining teeth in a jaw, a complete denture can be made to replace them; this appliance is made of acrylic and is removed at night while sleeping.


The layer of tooth underneath the enamel (outer surface); this layer can be sensitive to sweets and cold if exposed from a fracture, cavity, wear, or recession of the gums.


This describes the first stage of the formation of a cavity; a tooth will decalcify before it chips away to cause a cavity; sometimes a cavity at this stage can be remineralized by using fluoride and not need a filling, but meticulous cleaning and monitoring is needed.


This word describes a space or area where teeth are missing.


The outer layer of tooth structure.


A dental specialist who treats the nerves of the teeth by performing root canals and related surgeries.


The wearing away of tooth structure from acids in our foods, drinks, stomach acids from reflux, grinding of teeth by the patient, or mechanical forces.


The process in tooth development when the teeth enter the mouth through the gums.


When a baby tooth comes out on its own, we say that it exfoliated.


When we remove a tooth, we are “extracting” it.

Extrinsic stain

Tooth stains that originate from our diet, nicotine products, and plaque buildup are extrinsic stains and respond well to bleaching.


An abnormal connection between two tissue areas; in dentistry, a draining abscess can cause a “gum boil” which is a drainage tract (or fistula) of an infection.


An acrylic temporary partial used to replace a missing tooth; kind of like a retainer with a tooth on it.


An element that has been shown to prevent tooth decay; fluoride is added to public drinking water, is in most toothpastes and some rinses, and is also available in strong concentrations to be applied in the dental office.


A muscular attachment that connects our movable cheeks and tongue to our bound-down gum tissue; these muscles can be seen if you lift up your lips or your tongue.


Removal of a frenum; usually due to restricted movement of the tongue, problem areas for denture/partial wearers, or for spacing issues in younger children, or if these muscle pulls are causing recession of the gums.

Geopraphic tongue

A common condition where the normal papilla pattern on our tongue changes to have areas of missing papilla and overcrowded papilla; the look of the tongue can change from week to week and doesn’t require any treatment.


Inflammation of the gums around the teeth; this is indicated by bleeding and can be caused from plaque accumulation from improper brushing/flossing, rough fillings, or an irritation of some sort.


When we transplant a tissue to an area of missing tissue, this is a graft; the donor tissue can come from the patient, an animal, or be synthetically created.


Bad breath.


A collection of blood in an area, caused by a break in a vessel wall.


A fancy name for bleeding.


The practice of maintaining health and cleanliness.


A licensed dental professional whose focus is on maintaining oral health by performing such duties as dental cleanings, periodontal cleanings, and providing home care instructions to patients.

Impaction / Impacted tooth

When a tooth does not have room to erupt out of the bone and into the mouth, it is impacted.


A titanium root replacement that is put into the space of a missing tooth where bone can grow and fuse to the implant. A crown or tooth can then be placed on the implant to replace the missing tooth. Implants have the advantage of never getting decay, helping to maintain bone levels around them, and also offering a beautiful & natural appearing tooth replacement.


Moldable materials used to create a three dimensionsal model of your teeth.


The front teeth are called incisors, there are four incisors on top and four on the bottom.


The buildup of bacteria or viruses to cause the body to react by producing redness, swelling, heat, odor and pain.

Inlay / Onlay

A metal or porcelain restoration that is cemented into place after a cavity, old filling or weakened tooth structure is removed; these are stronger than fillings, last longer and have the benefit of preserving tooth structure.


Between teeth; in the space between two teeth there lies a piece of gum tissue called the interdental papilla.


The triangular space between adjacent teeth is called the interproximal space.

Intrinsic Stain

Tooth stains which originate on the inside of the tooth; causes include medications, trauma to a tooth, hereditary issues, dental materials, fluorosis, and decay.


A fairly new way of performing orthodontics; instead of metal braces, these clear trays are worn to move the teeth by applying pressures to them.


To rinse.


A descriptive word of a white lesion that has not been specified as any other disease; the white appearance is from a thickened surface area.


Many of our materials are hardened with a special dental light called a curing light; this allows us to mold or shape the material before it is “cured” in place.

Lichen Planus

A relatively common oral disorder that is mediated by the immune system and can affect the skin also; signs and symptoms include white lines called Wickham’s striae on the tissue surfaces, ulcerated lesions and pain.


The surface of the tooth which faces the tongue or roof of the mouth.

Mandible / Mandibular Arch

The lower jaw.


The act of chewing.

Maxilla / Maxillary Arch

The upper jaw.


The surface of a tooth that touches the tooth in front of it.


A term used to describe the location at the front of the mouth between the upper and lower front two teeth.

Mixed Dentition

The stage of tooth development when there are permanent and primary teeth in the dental arches.


The back teeth in our mouth which are larger in size than premolars and incisors; there are generally 4 or more cusps (points) on these teeth.


An appliance that is made to protect teeth from grinding damage and also to help alleviate TMJ symptoms such as popping and clicking.

Nitrous oxide / N2O

Aka laughing gas; this gas is used to help alleviate anxiety and is inhaled throughout the dental procedure; it causes a relaxation/euphoric sensation.


The top surface of a back tooth that meets up with opposing jaw; this surface generally has cusps (points) and grooves on it.

Occlusal Plane

A term used to describe the surface, or the average curve of the surface, that sits on the edges of all the teeth in a particular dental arch.


A dental specialty which involves moving teeth into a desired position with the use of braces, brackets, wires or clear trays that fit over your teeth.


The tissue that fills the space between adjacent teeth.


A benign overgrowth of epithelium that can arise from the HPV virus.


Aka Pediatric Dentist; this dental specialist sees only children and young adults up to age 18 years old.

Periapical x-ray

An x-ray film that captures the full length of a tooth and shows us the bone level, full tooth root and the surrounding bone.


This word is used a lot in dentistry, it comes from the word “peridontium” which describes the tissues that surround & support the teeth, including the bone, gums, and ligaments.

Periodontal disease / Periodontitis

An infection of the periodontium (supporting structures of the teeth such as tissues and bone); causes of periodontal disease include bacteria, viruses, genetics, poor home care, immune deficiency, smoking, hormones, and diseases among others.


Periodontics is the dental specialty that studies supporting structures of teeth–gums, bone and ligaments–and the diseases and conditions that affect them. Periodontal diseases include gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), periodontitis, and gingival recession (gum recession). Untreated, these diseases lead to bone loss and tooth loss. In fact, periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and surgical and non-surgical treatment of periodontal disease. A periodontist also performs and maintains dental implants to replace teeth lost due to periodontal disease.

Periodontics is a recognized American Dental Association specialty of dentistry. Periodontists complete three years of additional formal training in an accredited residency training program after the required four years of dental school. Periodontists may also earn board certification by the American Board of Periodontology.


A colorless, odorless, sticky substance containing acids and bacteria that causes tooth decay.


Spaces between the teeth and gums; healthy tissue fits like a cuff around each tooth and we measure the depth of this collar of tissue to determine if disease is present.


The false tooth portion of a bridge (see “Bridge” for complete explanation).

Post & Core

When not enough tooth structure remains to support a crown, a post can sometimes be placed into a root canal treated tooth to gain vertical support. A core is the filling on top of the post on which the crown slides onto.


The back region.

Potassium Nitrate

The active ingredient in desensitizing toothpastes (like Sensodyne) which temporarily numbs the nerves of the teeth for minor discomfort.


A tooth in our mouth that has 2 cusps (or points) on them; we have a total of 8 premolars.

Primary teeth

Aka baby teeth; these are the first 20 teeth which erupt in our mouths by age 2 and are generally shed by the age of 13 years old.

Prophy / Prophylaxis

A fancy name for a simple cleaning.

Prophy Jet

An instrument used in the dental office which utilitzes air, water, and powder to clean heavy extrinsic stains, plaque and debris off of the teeth.


A dental specialist who treats patients with clinical conditions that pertain to missing teeth and maxillofacial structures.

Pulp- the central core of a tooth which carries the nerve tissue and blood vessels to supply sensations and moisture to the tooth structure.


This is the initial step of a root canal; it involves removing the irritated or dead nerve tissue from the tooth; in baby teeth, this is usually the only step that is performed before the tooth is filled or crowned.


The quarter of a mouth which is being addressed; we have four quadrants in our mouths and this term describes which quarter we are referring to (i.e. upper left quadrant).


Aka x-rays; these small x-rays allow us to see decay, pathology, bone levels, and positioning of the teeth which cannot be fully seen with just an exam; x-rays are essential to a complete exam; our office uses digital x-rays which have many benefits including saving time and reducing the radiation to our patients by 70-90%.


Another name for a hygiene appointment where a cleaning, exam, x-rays, fluoride, and home instructions are given.


When gum tissue around a tooth pulls back and the roots are exposed; there are many causes for this which include aggressive brushing, periodontal disease, thin bone, grinding and smokeless tobacco.


The act of minerals being reincorporated into the tooth structure after bacteria have started to cause demineralization of areas which would lead to a cavity; fluoride is our main mineral which is incorporated into the tooth structure during remineralization.


Tooth colored filling materials; see “composite”.


The dissolving away of tooth structure generally caused by trauma or an unknown etiology; can also refer to the dissolving of bone after extraction of teeth.


The portion of a tooth that is anchored in the bone and contains the nerves and blood vessels that supply the crown (or top) of the tooth.

Root Canal

When a tooth has a deep cavity or irritated nerve, sometimes a root canal is needed; this procedure involves removing the diseased or irritated tissue from the pulp (center canal of a tooth where the nerve & blood vessels are) and cleaning the surfaces before filling this space with a material called gutta percha.

Scaling & Root Planing

A periodontal treatment which involves a deeper cleaning of periodontal pockets where accumulations of calculus and bacteria have occurred; these areas often involve numbing the tissues/teeth and more time due to the difficulty of cleaning these areas.


A material that is flowed into the grooves of our teeth to prevent cavities in these hard to clean areas.


The shedding of outer skin or tissue.

Space Maintainer

A device used to hold permanent teeth in position if a baby tooth is lost prematurely; this prevents tilting or drifting of the permanent teeth which could cause spacing problems if not held in place.

Supernumerary teeth

A condition in which there are extra teeth in addition to having the normal amount; generally these teeth are malformed and sometimes don’t erupt through the gums.


See calculus.


A fancy name for our jaw joint; Many people refer to a popping or painful joint as “TMJ” but it’s actually called “TMD- Temporomandibular disorder”. Treatment for TMD may involve a bite adjustment or using an appliance to allow those joints & muscles to relax & heal. Rarely surgical options are needed.

Topical jelly or Topical anesthethic

This material is used to numb the tissue partially before a local anesthetic is applied; it makes the anesthetic injection more comfortable for the patient.


A thickening of bone that occurs most commonly in the roof of the mouth or below the tongue; they generally occur in patients who clench and grind their teeth and usually don’t need to be removed unless interfering with speech or a dental appliance.


an oral cancer screening device that our office uses to help see tissue changes that often can’t be seen with the regular overhead light. This device can help detect pathologic changes in their early stages and make treatment more successful; go to to learn more.


A porcelain restoration that is applied to the front of a tooth; a veneer allows a more stable restoration than a large filling because it is a strong porcelain and is bonded to the entire front surface of a tooth; a veneer can change the color and shape of a tooth and is less likely to stain than a filling.

Wisdom teeth

Aka 3rd molars; these teeth erupt generally around 17-20 years of age; they are our back molars which often need to be removed due to limited space or impaction (meaning they don’t have enough space to grow out of the bone and into our mouths).


A medical term for dry mouth from lack of saliva; this can be caused by medication, aging, or other medical conditions; some over the counter saliva substitutes can help with this condition.