Dental Terminology

Dentists use many words to describe parts of the mouth, problems, and procedures. Your dentist can explain any term you don’t know, but in the meantime here are some you can learn about.

  • ABRASION

    Wear on a tooth caused by brushing too hard, holding things in your teeth, and other actions.

  • ATTRITION

    The normal wearing down of the surface of a tooth from chewing.

  • AMALGAM

    A silver filling. Used for more than a century, amalgam fillings are proven to be safe, cost-effective and durable.

  • BICUSPID/PREMOLAR

    Also called a premolar. A tooth that has two cusps, or pointed areas on top and located between the eye teeth (cuspids) and the molars.

  • BITE WING

    An X-ray of the crowns of the upper and lower molars when biting down.

  • BRIDGE

    An appliance that attaches an artificial tooth or teeth to the teeth next to it.

  • BRUXISM

    An unconscious habit of grinding or clenching of the teeth which often happens when a person is sleeping or during the day.

  • CALCULUS/TARTAR

    A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to get inflamed. It’s scraped off when a dentist cleans your teeth.

  • CANINE/CUSPID

    The teeth near the front of the mouth that come to a single point. Sometimes called the “eye teeth” or “canines.”

  • CARIES

    Tooth decay, which leads to a cavity.

  • COMPOSITE BONDING

    Tooth-colored resin filling material used primarily for front teeth. Although cosmetically superior, it is generally less durable than other materials.

  • CROWN/CAP

    The artificial covering of a tooth with metal, porcelain or porcelain fused to metal. Crowns cover teeth weakened by decay or severely damaged or chipped.

  • CUSP

    One of the pointed parts on the top of a tooth.

  • DENTIN

    The substance underneath the enamel on the top of a tooth, and under the cementum at the root.

  • DENTURES

    Removable artificial teeth in a plastic base that rests directly on the gums. A denture may be complete or partial depending on the number of missing natural teeth.

  • DRY SOCKET

    Pain and inflammation in a tooth socket after the tooth is removed.

  • ENAMEL

    The hard, calcium-rich surface on the crown of a tooth.

  • ENDODONTICS

    Treatment of the root and nerve of the tooth.

  • EXTRACTION

    The removal of all or part of a tooth.

  • GINGIVA

    The soft tissues around the teeth. Also called gums.

  • GINGIVITIS

    An inflammation of the gums surrounding the teeth caused by a buildup of plaque or food particles.

  • IMPACTED TOOTH

    A tooth that’s blocked from coming up through the gums by another tooth, bone, or soft tissue.

  • IMPLANT

    A surgical component that interfaces with the bone of the jaw or skull to support a dental prosthesis such as a crown, bridge, denture, facial prosthesis or to act as an orthodontic anchor.

  • INCISOR

    A front tooth designed for cutting.

  • LAMINATE VENEER

    A thin plastic or porcelain shell applied to the front of a tooth to restore, strengthen or improve its appearance.

  • LINGUAL

    Of or near the tongue.

  • MALOCCLUSION

    When the upper and lower teeth aren’t lined up well in order to bite and chew properly.

  • MANDIBLE

    The lower jaw.

  • MAXILLA

    The upper jaw.

  • MOLARS

    The large teeth near the back of the jaws that are used for grinding food.

  • MOUTH GUARD

    A removable device that a person wears over their teeth to protect them from damage during sports.

  • NIGHT GUARD

    A removable device that a person wears over their teeth at night to protect them from damage due to bruxism.

  • NURSING BOTTLE SYNDROME (BABY BOTTLE TOOTH DECAY)

    Severe decay in baby teeth due to sleeping with a bottle of milk or juice. The drink’s natural sugars combine with bacteria in the mouth to produce acid that decays teeth.

  • OCCLUSION

    The contact between the upper and lower teeth in order to bite and chew.

  • ORTHODONTICS

    Straightening or moving misaligned teeth and/or jaws with braces and/or surgery.

  • OVERDENTURE

    A prosthetic device supported by implants or the roots of at least two natural teeth to provide better stability for the denture.

  • PALATE

    The hard and soft tissues that form the roof of the mouth.

  • PANOREX

    A type of x-ray image taken that shows the entire mouth in one image.

  • PEDIATRIC DENTISTRY

    The dental specialty devoted to the treatment of children.

  • PERIAPICAL X-RAY

    A type of x-ray image that shows the whole tooth-from the crown to beyond the root.

  • PERIODONTAL POCKET

    A deep area between a tooth and gum that’s the result of gum disease.

  • PERIODONTICS

    Treatment of gums, tissue and bone that supports the teeth.  

  • PERIODONTITIS (PERIODONTAL DISEASE)

    A severe infection of the gums that occurs when gingivitis gets worse. It can cause the gums and bones that support the teeth to break down. Teeth can then loosen and fall out.

  • PLAQUE

    A bacteria-containing substance that collects on the surface of teeth. Plaque can cause decay and gum irritation when it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing.

  • PONTIC

    The portion of a dental bridge that replaces missing teeth

  • POST AND CORE

    An anchor placed in the tooth root following a root canal to strengthen the tooth and help hold a crown (cap) in place.

  • PROSTHESIS

    An artificial replacement of a tooth or teeth.

  • PROSTHODONTICS

    Replacement of missing teeth with artificial materials, such as a bridge or denture.

  • PROPHYLAXIS

    A professional cleaning to remove plaque, calculus (mineralized plaque) and stains to help prevent dental disease.

  • PULP

    The soft tissue inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves.

  • RESTORATION

    A kind of treatment that repairs or replaces teeth.

  • RETAINER

    A removable (or fixed) device that’s worn in the mouth to prevent teeth from moving out of position.

  • ROOT CANAL

    A treatment that removes the tooth nerve (pulp) and seals the space formerly occupied by the nerve with an inert material. A crown is recommended to cover the tooth to prevent it from breaking.

  • ROOT PLANING

    Cleaning of a tooth root to remove bacteria, calculus, and diseased surfaces.

  • ROOT

    The bottom part of the tooth that anchors it in the jaw and is covered by bone and the gums.

  • SCALING

    A procedure that uses tools to remove plaque, tartar, and stains from teeth.

  • SEALANT

    A plastic resin that can be put on the biting surfaces of back teeth to help prevent caries.

  • SUBLINGUAL

    Under the tongue.

  • SUBMANDIBULAR

    Below the lower jaw.  

  • TARTAR/CALCULUS

    A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to get inflamed. It’s scraped off when a dentist cleans your teeth.

  • TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT (TMJ)

    The joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. This is a joint, not a dental condition.

  • TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT DYSFUNCTION

    Pain, clicking, and other symptoms that are caused by problems with the temporomandibular joint and the associated muscles.

  • THIRD MOLAR

    Also called the wisdom teeth

  • VENEER

    A thin, artificial cover for a tooth to correct its shape or color. It’s made to look and feel like a real tooth. Veneers can be made of porcelain, ceramic, composite, or acrylic resin.

  • WHITENING

    A technique that lightens the color of heavily stained teeth.    

  • XEROSTOMIA

    Dry mouth caused by salivary glands that don’t work properly or reduced flow of saliva from medications.

  • X-RAY

    An image of bones, teeth and restorations made with radiation.