Glossary of Dental Terms


AACD: American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

AAE: American Association of Endodontists.

AAO: American Association of Orthodontists.

AAP: American Academy of Periodontology.

ABPD: American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.

Abscess: A dental abscess is a condition characterized by a buildup of pus resulting from the infection of a tooth or the gum tissue.

Abutment: Method of support for a fixed or removable dental bridge used to replace a missing tooth. The abutment typically uses one or both teeth on either side of the missing tooth.

ACD: American College of Dentists.

ACP: American College of Prosthodontists.

ADA: American Dental Association.

AGD: Academy of General Dentistry.

Alveolar bone: The part of the jaw bone that surrounds and anchors tooth roots.

Amalgam fillings: Amalgam fillings were commonly used for dental fillings in the past. Amalgam is typically produced from a combination of 30% silver, 19% copper and  50% mercury, and is used to fill hollow areas of a tooth after the decay from a dental cavity had been removed. Recently, tooth-colored plastic resin fillings have become more common than amalgam fillings. Plastic resin fillings prevent the dark unattractive appearance often seen when a tooth has a medium to large amalgam filling. Resin fillings can be tricky to properly place and if not performed correctly will not last long term in a tooth.

Apicoectomy: A type of endodontic procedure that involves the removal of the apex (tip) of a tooth root. Also referred to as root resectioning.


Bicuspid: The bicuspid teeth are the “two-pointed” (two cusps) teeth located between the incisors/canines and molars. Bicuspids are used for crushing food.

Bleaching: Dental bleaching is a type of teeth whitening treatment used to lighten or whiten teeth.

Bonding: Dental bonding is a technique used to bind an artificial material with the surface of a tooth for restorative purposes (e.g. binding a dental filling with a tooth).

Braces: A tool of orthodontics, dental braces are designed to correct the misalignment of teeth for functional or cosmetic purposes.

Bridge: A dental bridge is a type of prosthetic appliance that is usually fixed within a patient's mouth for the purpose of replacing a missing tooth or teeth.

Bruxism: Defined as the habitual (often unconscious) clenching or grinding of the teeth at night.

Bruxomania: A nervous condition in which a person involuntarily grinds their teeth while awake.


CAD/CAM: Computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing. CAD/CAM technology allows for the computerized design and manufacture of a product. CAD/CAM is used in dentistry to design dental crowns and other restorative devices.

Calculus: Calculus: Calculus is often composed of a mixture of hardened mineral crystals generated by the saliva glands. The mineral crystallizes within a coating of dental plaque on teeth.

Canker Sore: Canker Sore: A type of open sore (ulceration) affecting the lips or lining of the mouth. One of the most common oral health problems faced by Americans, canker sores typically last between 10 to 14 days and are caused by stress and local irritation of the gums and adjacent soft tissues

Canines: Also referred to as “cuspids,” canines are located between the incisors and premolars.

Cantilever Bridge: One of three types of dental bridges used to replace a missing tooth or teeth, a cantilever bridge is attached to one or more abutment (adjacent) teeth on one side only. Cantilevers bridges are affective in only limited circumstances where the physical stress on the replacement tooth is minimal.

Cap: Oftentimes used as a common term for a crown, “cap” specifically refers to a replacement part of that aspect of the tooth seen in the mouth called the crown of the tooth.

Caries: The technical term for the progressive demineralization of a tooth or teeth. Caries are caused by excessive acid production generated by the bacterial digestion of sugars.

Cementum: The surface layer of living cells that are deposited on the roots of teeth and connects the tooth root to the periodontal ligament.

Clenching: Clenching: The act of forcibly closing the jaws and teeth together, potentially causing structural damage to the teeth and/or bite as well as stress to the jaw-closing and opening muscles.

Composite Fillings: Composite resin fillings are bonded to a tooth to repair minimal tooth fractures, tooth decay or otherwise damaged teeth.

Composite Veneers: Type of dental veneer in which plastic resin filling material is used to recreate a damaged, out of alignment, or discolored front of a tooth. Properly performed, a natural healthy look can be achieved in one visit. Composite veneering is usually less costly than porcelain veneers and typically can be expected to last or look good between five and seven years.

Cosmetic Dentistry: A specialized field of dentistry that focuses on purely aesthetic treatments designed to improve the appearance, health and function of the teeth.

Crown: A dental crown is a type of restorative prosthetic piece that is used to replace all or part of a missing tooth. In the past, dental crowns have been manufactured by lab technicians.  More recently, a crown have been manufactured by CAD/CAM technology used in the dental treatment room or in the dental laboratory.

Cuspid: Also referred to as “canine teeth,” cuspids are located in between the incisors and premolars.


DDM: Doctor of Dental Medicine.

DDS: Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Decay: Tooth decay (dental caries) refers to the gradual degradation of a tooth as a result of acid production generated by the bacterial digestion of sugars. Tooth decay is indicative of poor oral hygiene, poor diet, or both.

Deciduous Teeth: Commonly called the “baby teeth,” deciduous teeth are the primary teeth that are eventually replaced by the permanent teeth, commonly called the “adult teeth.”

Dental Braces: A tool of orthodontics, dental braces are designed to correct the misalignment of teeth for functional or cosmetic purposes.

Dental Floss: Dental Floss: Nylon string (waxed or unwaxed) used to clean the spaces and the sides of teeth between as part of regular dental hygiene.

Dental Implant: A dental implant is a type of prosthetic device that is inserted into the upper or lower jawbone, onto which an artificial tooth, crown or bridge can be anchored. Dental implants are typically constructed from titanium.

Dental Plaque: Like tartar, dental plaque is a sticky buildup of  a long sugar molecule called polysaccharide that adheres to the tooth. Dental plaque can negatively affect a tooth both above and below the gum line.

Dentures: Artificial teeth that are intended for the partial or complete replacement of missing teeth. Dentures differ from other replacements, such as a dental bridge or implant, in that they are removable.

Diastema: Refers to the space between two teeth. Diastemas on teeth in the front part of the mouth are viewed by many people as being unattractive to look at.

Dry Mouth Syndrome: Also referred to as xerostomia, dry mouth syndrome is a condition that is caused by the body's inability to produce adequate levels of saliva in the mouth. Although often associated with the elderly and a reduction in saliva flow, dry mouth syndrome can also be caused by various other factors such as certain medications.


Enamel: Tooth enamel is one of four tissues that makeup the tooth. Enamel is the hard white substance on the outside of the tooth and it is one of the most mineralized substances in the body.

Endodontics: A specialized field of dentistry that is focused on root canal therapy.

Exodontia: A branch of dentistry that specializes in the simple or surgical extraction of teeth.

Extraction: A dental extraction is the simple or surgical removal of a tooth or teeth.


FAACD: Fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry

FAGD: Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry

Family Dentistry: Often referred to as “general dentistry,” family dentistry is the term given to the field of dentistry that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of conditions, disorders and diseases affecting the teeth, gums and the maxillofacial (associated with the jaw and face) region of the body.

Filling: A dental filling is a type of substance that is inserted into a hollow part of the tooth to restore the tooth shape or gradation. Fillings are typically used to refill the tooth area that has been removed due to tooth decay. Dental fillings are composed of metal, porcelain, alloy or resin.

Fixed Bridge: A fixed bridge is a pontic, or porcelain ceramic tooth replica, that is bonded to two adjacent porcelain-crowned teeth without the ability to remove it.

Floss: Nylon string (either waxed or unwaxed) used to clean the spaces between the teeth as part of regular oral hygiene practice.

Fluoride: Used in the dental industry as a type of topical gel/liquid for the purpose of warding off tooth decay. Water fluoridation has been supported by such groups as the American Dental Association (ADA) and World Health Organization (WHO) to aid in avoiding the development of dental cavities.


General Dentistry: General dentistry is the term given to the field of dentistry that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of conditions, disorders and diseases affecting the teeth, gums and the maxillofacial (associated with the jaw and face) region of the body.

Gingiva: The technical term for gum tissue, the gingiva surrounds the roots of the teeth and jawbone.

Gingivitis: A disease of the gum tissue that can cause inflammation and bleeding. Gingivitis is typically the result of plaque buildup and generally poor oral hygiene.

Gum Disease: A dental condition that causes inflammation of the gum tissue. A serious case of gum disease could lead to the development of periodontitis.

Gummy Smile: A condition in which a high lip line (hypermobile lip) exposes an abnormal level of gum tissue. Gummy smile can be corrected through surgery.


Halitosis: The technical term for bad breath. Halitosis can result from gum disease, tooth decay, gastrointestinal problems or systematic abnormalities.


Impacted teeth: Teeth that are prevented from proper eruption into the mouth because of  poor positioning next to adjacent teeth or mouth structures. Failure to properly erupt can make these teeth more apt to become diseased or increase the chance of disease to adjacent teeth. The dentist’s recommendation may be to remove these teeth if certain risk factors warrant this.

Implants: A dental implant is a type of prosthetic device that is inserted into the upper or lower jawbone, onto which an artificial tooth, crown or bridge can be anchored. Implants are typically constructed from titanium.

Incisors: The front teeth located in between the canines.

Indirect Fillings: Indirect Fillings: If a tooth is damaged past the point in which a traditional dental filling can serve as treatment, while at the same time not being damaged enough to warrant a dental crown, an indirect filling may be used. An indirect filling comes in two forms (inlay or onlay) and is manufactured in a dental laboratory using a number of methods including the use of CAD/CAM technology.

Inlays: Inlays: Dental inlays are restorative devices that can be used in place of dental fillings to treat tooth decay/damage. As opposed to being molded into place within the mouth (as with dental fillings), dental inlays are fabricated in a dental laboratory using different methods including CAD/CAM technology. While onlays replace a significant part of a tooth’s anatomy, inlays are set within a tooth that surrounds the inlay with natural tooth structure.


Laser Dentistry: Field of dentistry that incorporates the use of high-tech lasers in performing dental procedures. Laser dentistry may boast a higher rate of precision, minimal-to-no patient discomfort and faster healing time than more traditional alternatives.

Local Anesthesia: A local anesthetic is a type of medication that is administered to numb the pain in a specific (localized) area of the body.


Malocclusion: Refers to the misalignment of the lower (mandibular) and upper (maxillary) teeth.

Mandibular Teeth: The lower portion of the jaw.

Maxillary Teeth: The upper portion of the jaw.

Molars: Back teeth that are used for grinding/chewing food. The molars located furthest in the back of the mouth are also called the “wisdom teeth.”


Narrow Implants: A narrower type of dental implant developed specifically for people whose teeth prevent the use of traditional implants. Narrower implants may be used for small teeth and incisers. A narrower implant may best serve patients that require stabilization of lower jaw dentures, pre-molar teeth should a bone graft fail or a missing tooth that is located in a narrow area.

Night Guard: A type of plastic dental appliance, night guards are used to lessen damage to teeth and jaw muscles from the grinding or clenching of teeth at night (bruxism).

Nitrous Oxide: Also referred to as “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide (N2O) is a commonly used dental analgesic. When used in conjunction with local anesthetics nitrous can significantly lower a person’s anxiety about having dental treatment. Novocain: The brand name for an older type of local anesthetic that was most commonly used throughout the dental industry.

Novocain: is a generic term used to describe an injectable local anesthetic of which there are many types which are chosen by the dentist to provide the appropriate effect and duration of nerve numbness.


Occlusion: The technical term for a person's “bite,” an occlusion refers to the way in which the mandibular (lower) and maxillary (upper) teeth align when the jaw is closed. Misalignment is referred to as a malocclusion.

Onlays: Dental onlays are dental restorations that can be used in place of dental fillings to treat tooth decay/damage. As opposed to being molded into place within the mouth (as with dental fillings), dental onlays are fabricated in a dental laboratory using several different methods including CAD/CAM  (computer aided design camera) technology.

Oral Cancer: Oral Cancer: Malignancy affecting the oral cavity. White sores or lesion that cannot be rubbed off and fails to disappear in 10-14 days should be seen by the dentist or oral surgeon to evaluate the need for biopsy.

Oral Sedation: Sedation modality in which a patient takes an oral sedative prior to an appointment to induce relaxation. Also referred to as oral conscious sedation.

Oral Surgery: A type of surgery pertaining to the jaws or mouth.

Oral Thrush: A fungal infection of the mouth presenting with open sores or lesions. Thrush is common among denture wearers, infants and people who are immunocompromised.

Orthodontics: A highly-specialized field of dentistry that revolves around treating malocclusions, orthodontics is commonly associated with the use of dental braces, retainers and headgear for the purpose of straightening the teeth and correcting any related growth abnormalities. Orthodontics can straighten teeth and greatly improve the smile and a person's self confidence.


Pediatric Dentistry: A specialized field of dentistry focused on the treatment of children's dental problems.

Periodontal ligament: Fibrous tissue that attaches the root of the tooth to the jaw bone.

Periodontitis: A serious progression of gum disease that can result in the loss of teeth if not properly treated. Periodontitis most often is the result of poor oral hygiene.

Periodontal Surgery: A type of surgical procedure that provides treatment to structurally damaged gum or connective tissue.

Periodontics: A specialized field of dentistry that revolves around the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the gum and supportive tissues of the oral cavity.

Permanent Teeth: Consisting of 32 teeth, the permanent or adult teeth follow the loss of the deciduous teeth.

Plaque: A sticky slimy substance composed of long sugar molecules called Bacteria live in plaque and secrete acids which damage the tooth and gums

Pontic: A type of artificial tooth mounted on a fixed dental bridge and used to replace a missing natural tooth.

Porcelain Veneers: Porcelain ceramic fronts for teeth to improve the color, shape and straightness of teeth. Treatment requires at least two visits as porcelain veneers are made in a dental laboratory after the teeth have been prepared by some drilling when appropriate. Well done porcelain veneers can look good even after 15 years.

Premolars: Term reserved for the teeth that are located in between the cuspids and molars.

Prenatal Dentistry: Dentistry pertaining to pregnant women.

Prosthodontics: Refers to the restoration of teeth that require one or more of either crowns, bridges, implants, dentures or combination of these. Term literally means “replacement teeth”.

Pulp: Dental pulp is a soft tissue located in the center most part of a tooth, containing the nerve and blood supply of the tooth. Following the formation and eruption of teeth into the mouth, the primary function of dental pulp is the production of dentin, a hard tissue (similar to bone tissue) in response to irritation or tooth injury such as when there is a cavity due to decay and subsequently a deep filling or other restoration.


Receding Gums: Commonly associated with poor oral hygiene, infection or aging, receding gums refers to the loss of gum tissue. Traumatic biting forces have been tied to gum recession and bone loss on the fronts of teeth.

Resin Bonded Bridge: A resin bonded bridge is often used to replace missing front teeth, providing that the adjoining teeth do not have extensive dental fillings or unhealthy gums. Resin bonded bridges are generally less expensive than traditional dental bridges.

Retainer: A dental retainer is a type of orthodontic appliance that helps to maintain the alignment of teeth following corrective orthodontic treatment. Retainers are often used following removal of dental braces.

Root: The root of a tooth is the section that is embedded in the jawbone, anchoring it in place.

Root Canal: The hollow area located at the center of a tooth that contains the dental pulp.

Root Canal Therapy: A dental procedure through which damaged/diseased soft tissue (pulp) is removed from the interior of a tooth, replaced with a permanent filling or capped with a dental crown.


Scaling: Dental scaling refers to the removal of tartar and the outer surface of bacteria laden surface cell on the roots of the teeth, also referred to as root planing.

Sealant: A type of composite material that is used as a bond to seal teeth and prevent tooth decay.

Succedaneous Teeth: Also referred to as the permanent teeth, the secondary teeth are those that develop after the baby, or primary, teeth.

Sedation Dentist: Dental professional who is trained to utilize drugs and pain relaxing gas to induce a sleepy state allowing the patient to accept having dental procedures performed.

Sleep Dentistry: Sedation dentistry is often referred to as “sleep dentistry.” While the patient is in a drug induced semi-sleeping state, they can still respond to questions and commands and most importantly can control their own breathing.

Sleep Apnea: A type of sleep disorder during which sufferers experience temporary cessation of breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea is often caused by abnormal positioning of the jaw or tongue and can be treated by certain dental professionals.

Sjögren's Syndrome: Named after Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren, this autoimmune disorder attacks the exocrine glands, resulting in the cessation of tear and saliva production. Sjögren's syndrome can cause significant damage to vital organs, is currently incurable and typically affects older women.

Stomatitis: An oral health condition causing the temporary inflammation of the mucosal membranes inside the mouth.

Stomatology: A branch of medicine that involves the study of diseases and disorders of the mouth.


Tartar: Crystals of minerals from the saliva that is deposited within a matrix of dental plaque, the gooey substance that sticks to teeth that have not received adequate oral hygiene.

Teeth Whitening: Refers to the practice of removal of stains that collect over time on the dentin surface located under the outer tooth enamel. This is done with some form of hydrogen peroxide which varies in concentration. There are many methods of application and various high intensity lights used to increase the reactivity of the hydrogen peroxide.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ): A stress bearing joint that includes the head of the lower jaw called the condyle and the base of the temporal bone of the skull. Movement of the lower jaw relies on this joint. Cartilage covers the area of bone contact and fibrous tissue is interposed between the bony parts.

TMJ Syndrome: Also referred to as temporomandibular disorder (TMD), TMJ syndrome is a serious condition that affects the temporomandibular joint, limiting a person's ability to open and close his or her jaw.

Toothache: An ache or pain that is localized around a specific tooth or teeth. Toothaches may be caused by trauma or a more serious dental condition such as decay, disease or crack.


Veneers: A type of thin material that is used for restorative or aesthetic purposes, veneers are manufactured from porcelain or composite materials.


Waterlase Dental Laser: A type of dental laser developed by BIOLASE Technology that utilizes hydrokinetic energy to remove enamel and soft tissue with extreme precision and virtually no heat or discomfort.

Whitening: Refers to the common practice of “whitening” teeth through a variety of methods, notably laser teeth whitening and bleaching.

Wisdom Teeth: Technically called the 3rd molar teeth. They reside in the upper and lower jaws behind the 2nd molar teeth. Unless the wisdom teeth are impacted, being prevented from eruption, they erupt through the gums at approximately age 18, six years after the last of the other permanent teeth have come into the mouth.


Xerostomia: Technical classification of dry mouth syndrome.


Zoom Whitening: Zoom whitening is an in-office teeth whitening system developed by Discus Dental.

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