Glossary | Delta Dental of Virginia

Oral Health and Wellness

Oral Health Terms Glossary

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

A

Abrasion - Removal of tooth structure due to rubbing and scraping (e.g. Incorrect brushing method).
Abscess - A localized infection due to a collection of pus in the bone or soft tissue caused by severe decay, trauma or gum disease that may cause pain and swelling.
Abutment - A tooth or implant used to support a prosthesis; the natural teeth (or implanted teeth) that hold a fixed or removable bridge in place.
Alveolar Bone - The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth.
Alveoloplasty - A surgical procedure used to reshape supporting bone structures in preparation of a complete or partial denture.
Amalgam - A silver-colored filling made of a mixture of silver, tin, mercury and some other trace elements such as copper.
Anesthetic - A class of drugs that eliminates or reduces pain. See local anesthetic.
Anterior - Refers to the teeth and tissues located towards the front of the mouth (upper or lower incisors and canines).
Apex - The tip or end of the root of the tooth.
Apicoectomy - The amputation of the apex of a tooth.
Arch - Describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth.

B

Base - Cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the pulp (nerve chamber).
Bicuspid - A two-cusped tooth found between the molar and the cuspid.
Bifurcation (trifurcation) - Juncture of two (or three) roots in posterior teeth.
Biopsy - A process of removing tissue to determine the existence of pathology.
Bite - Relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure (occlusion).
Black Hairy Tongue - Elongated papillae on the tongue, promoting the growth of microorganisms.
Bleaching - The technique of applying a chemical agent, usually hydrogen peroxide, to the teeth to whiten them.
Block Injection - Anesthesia of a nerve trunk that covers a large area of the jaw; a mandibular block injection produces numbness of the lower jaw, teeth and half of the tongue.
Bonding - Chemically etching the tooth’s enamel then covering it by painting a layer of plastic on the tooth to correct stained or damaged teeth.
Bone Loss - The breakdown and loss of the alveolar bone that supports the teeth; usually caused by infection or long-term wear on chewing areas of the teeth.
Bridge - One or more artificial teeth attached, usually on both sides, by crowns to adjacent teeth. It is used to maintain space and function for missing teeth. It is often made of gold or porcelain on gold.
Bruxism - Tooth grinding, often caused by stress; most often done unconsciously at night.

C

Calcium - Chemical element needed for healthy teeth, bones and nerves.
Calculus - The hard deposit of mineralized plaque that forms on the crown and/or root of the tooth. Also referred to as tartar.
Canine Tooth - The second tooth from the large front tooth, commonly called the eye tooth or cuspid.
Canker Sore - Mouth sore appearing whitish, often with a red halo, of ten to fourteen day duration.
Cantilever Bridge - A fixed bridge that attaches to adjacent teeth only on one end.
Cap - Another term for crown; usually referring to a crown for a front tooth.
Caries - See Cavities.
Cast or Model - Reproduction of structures made by pouring plaster or stone into a mold.
Cavities - Decay which is the progressive breaking down or dissolving of tooth structure, caused by the acid produced when bacteria digests sugars.
Cement - A special type of glue used to hold a crown in place. It also acts as an insulator to protect the tooth’s nerve.
Cementum - The very thin, bonelike structure that covers the root of the tooth.
Clasp - A part of a removable partial denture that directly retains or stabilizes a denture.
Cleaning - Removal of plaque and calculus (tartar) from teeth, generally above the gum line. DDA preferred terminology is cleaning instead of prophy or prophylaxis. Example: "Dentists recommend scheduling two routine cleanings each year."
Clenching - The forceful holding together of the upper and lower teeth, which places stress on the ligaments that hold the teeth to the jawbone and the lower jaw to the skull.
Composite - A tooth-colored filling made of plastic resin.
Cross Bite - Reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth; a.k.a. "under bite," as in Class III malocclusion (prognathic jaw).
Crown Lengthening - A surgical procedure exposing more of the tooth for restorative purposes.
Crown - The portion of a tooth that is covered by enamel; Also coverage for a decayed or damaged tooth made of porcelain and/or metal.
Curettage - A deep scaling of the portion of the tooth below the gum line in order to remove tartar and infected gum tissue.
Cusp - The protruding portion of a tooth’s chewing surface.
Cuspid - See canine tooth.
Cyst - A soft or hard tissue sac, solid or filled with fluid.

D

DDS - Doctor of Dental Surgery – equivalent to DMD
Decay - See cavities.
Dental Floss - A thin, nylon string, waxed or unwaxed, that is inserted between the teeth to remove food and plaque.
Dental Hygienist - A dental professional specializing in cleaning the teeth by removing plaque, calculus and diseased gum tissue. The hygienist acts as the patient’s guide in establishing a proper oral hygiene program.
Dental Implant - Usually a titanium cylinder surgically placed in the upper or lower jaw to provide support for a dental restoration or appliance.
Dentin - The part of the tooth that is under the enamel that covers the crown and the cementum which covers the root.
Dentition - The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.
Denture - A removable appliance used to replace teeth. A complete denture replaces all of the upper and/or teeth. See also partial denture.
Diastema - Space between teeth.
Direct Pulp Cap - The procedure in which the exposed pulp is covered with a dressing or cement that protects the pulp and promotes healing and repair.
Dry Socket - A localized inflammation of the tooth socket following an extraction due to infection or loss of a blood clot.

E

Enamel - The hard, calcified (mineralized) portion of the tooth which covers the crown. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body.
Endodontics - The dental specialty that deals with injuries to, or diseases of, the pulp, or nerve of the tooth.
Endodontist - The specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber).
Epidemiology - Study of the incidence of disease in a population.
Eruption - Process of teeth protruding through the gums.
Excision - Surgical removal of bone or tissue.
Extracoronal - The outside of the crown of the tooth.
Extraoral - The outside of the mouth.
Eye Teeth - The four upper and lower canine (cuspid) teeth.

F

Facing - Tooth colored overlay of the visible portion of a crown; may be acrylic, composite or resin.
Fistula - A bump or boil on the gum tissue, which is a tract, in which an abscessed tooth can drain.
Flap Surgery - Lifting of gum tissue to expose and clean underlying tooth and bone structures.
Floss - See dental floss.
Fluoride - A chemical compound used to prevent dental decay, utilized in fluoridated water systems and/or applied directly to the teeth.
Forceps - Instrument used for removal of teeth.
Forensic Dentistry - Practice of gathering legal evidence for body identification or judicial issues.
Fossa - Valley found on the surface of posterior teeth.
Frenectomy - Removal or reshaping of thin muscle tissue that attaches the upper or lower lips to the gum, or the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Full Denture - Removable dental prosthesis (appliance) replacing all upper or lower teeth.
Full Mouth Reconstruction - Extensive restorations of natural teeth with crowns and/or fixed bridges to restore form and function.

G

General Anesthesia - Controlled state of unconsciousness, accompanied by a partial or complete loss of pain sensation, protective reflexes, and the ability to respond purposefully to physical stimulation or verbal command.
Gingiva - The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.
Gingivectomy - The removal of gingiva (gum).
Gingivitis - An inflammation of infection of the gingiva (gum tissue) caused by plaque and or tartar build-up. Precursor to periodontitis if not treated.
Gingivoplasty - A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva (gums).
Graft - A piece of tissue or synthetic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.
Gum - See gingiva.
Gum Recession - Exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.

H

Hygienist - Dental auxiliary who cleans teeth and provides patient education, administers local anesthetic, nitrous oxide and performs periodontal scaling.

I

Immediate Denture - A denture constructed for immediate placement after removal of the remaining teeth.
Impacted Tooth - Usually associated with a wisdom tooth, it is a tooth that is submerged under the gum tissue. It may be malpositioned and may never erupt.
Implant - A titanium cage or screw placed in the bone to replace a lost tooth or teeth. A crown, bridge or bar and denture can be fixed to the implant(s).
Incision and Drainage - Surgical incision of an abscess to drain suppuration (pus).
Incisors - The four front teeth referred to as central and lateral incisors, located in the upper and lower jaws and used to cut and tear food. The central incisors are the two large teeth in the middle of the mouth and the lateral incisors are next to the central incisor, one on each side.
Indirect Pulp Cap - A procedure in which the nearly exposed pulp is covered with a protective dressing to protect the pulp from additional injury and to promote healing and repair via formation of secondary dentin.
Inlay - A cast gold, porcelain, or composite custom-made filling cemented into the tooth that is used to replace part of a tooth. If it covers the tips of the teeth or otherwise supports the tips, it is called an onlay.
Interproximal - The area between two adjacent teeth.
Intracoronal - The area within the crown of a tooth.
Intraoral - The inside of the mouth.

L

Labial - The area pertaining to, or around, the lip.
Laminate - Thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth.
Laughing Gas - Nitrous oxide; odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation); reduces anxiety and creates a state of relaxation.
Lingual - The area pertaining to, or around, the tongue.
Local Anesthetic - The injection given in the mouth to numb the areas where a tooth or area needs a dental procedure. Often referred to as Novocain.

M

Malocclusion - The improper alignment of biting or chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth.
Mandible - The lower jaw.
Margin - Interface between a restoration and tooth structure.
Maryland Bridge - The trade name that has become synonymous with any resin bonded fixed partial denture (bridge).
Mastication - The act of chewing.
Maxilla - The upper jaw.
Metals, classification of - The noble metal classification system has been adopted as a more precise method of reporting various alloys in dentistry commonly used in crowns, bridges and dentures. These alloys contain varying percentages of gold, palladium and/or platinum. High noble contains more than 60% gold, palladium, and/or platinum (with at least 40% gold); noble contains more than 25% gold, palladium and/or platinum; predominately base contains less than 25% gold, palladium and/or platinum.
Molars - The broad, multicuspid back teeth, used for grinding food that are considered the largest teeth in the mouth. In adults, there are a total of twelve molars (including the four wisdom teeth or third molars), three on each side of the upper and lower jaws.

N

Night Guard - A plastic mouthpiece for the prevention of damage caused by grinding teeth at night.
Nitrous Oxide - A controlled mixture of nitrogen and oxygen gases (N2O) that is inhaled by the patient in order to decrease anxiety. Also referred to as laughing gas.
Novacaine - A generic name for the many kinds of anesthetics used in the dental injection, such as Xylocaine, Lidocaine, or Novacaine. See local anesthetic.

O

Occlusal Surface - The chewing surface of the back teeth.
Occlusal X-ray - An intraoral x-ray taken with the film held between the teeth in biting position.
Occlusion - Any contact between biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth.
Onlay - A cast gold or porcelain filling that covers one or all of the tooth’s cusps.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery - Surgical procedures on the mouth including extractions, removal of cysts or tumors and repair of fractured jaws.
Oral Pathologist - Dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases.
Oral Surgery - The removal of teeth and the repair and treatment of other oral problems, such as tumors and fractures.
Orthodontics - A specialized branch of dentistry that corrects malocclusion and restores the teeth to proper alignment and function. There are several different types of appliances used in orthodontics, one of which is commonly referred to as braces.
Osseous - Composed of bone; resembling bone; capable of forming bone.
Overbite - A condition in which the upper teeth excessively overlap the lower teeth when the jaw is closed. This condition can be corrected with orthodontics.

P

Palate - The hard and soft tissues that form the roof of the mouth.
Palliative - Treatment that relieves pain but is NOT curative.
Panorex - A full mouth x-ray (180 degree view) of the teeth, upper and lower jaws on one film.
Parasthesia - A partial loss of sensation; may be temporary or permanent.
Partial Denture - A removable appliance used to replace one or more lost teeth.
Pediatric Dentistry - The specialized branch of dentistry that deals solely with treating children’s dental disease. Also referred to as pedodontics.
Periapical - The area that surrounds the root tip of a tooth.
Pericoronitis - An inflammation of the gum tissue around the crown of a tooth, usually the third molar.
Periodontal - Relating to the tissue and bone that supports the tooth.
Periodontal Chart - Record measuring the depth of gum pockets around the teeth.
Periodontal Disease - The inflammation and infection of gums, ligaments, bone and other tissues surrounding the teeth. Gingivitis and periodontitis are the two main forms of periodontal disease; also called gum disease or pyorrhea.
Periodontal Pocket - An abnormal deepening of the gingival crevice. It is caused when disease and infection destroy the ligament that attaches the gum to the tooth and the underlying bone.
Periodontal Surgery - A surgical procedure involving the gums and jawbone.
Periodontics - The dental specialty that deals with the gum tissue and bones that supports the periodontal ligament and the jawbone; bone loss resulting in tooth loss can occur if untreated.
Periodontist - Dental specialist treating the gums and supporting soft and hard tissues that retain natural teeth and surgically placed dental implants.
Periradicular - The area which surrounds a portion of the root of the tooth.
Permanent Teeth - The 32 adult teeth that replace the baby or primary teeth; also known as secondary teeth.
Pit - A recessed area found on the surface of a tooth, usually where the grooves of the tooth meet.
Plaque - A film of sticky material containing saliva, food particles and bacteria that attaches to the tooth surface, both above and below the gum line. When left on the tooth, it can promote gum disease and tooth decay.
Pontic - An artificial tooth used in a bridge to replace a missing tooth.
Porcelain Crown - An all porcelain restoration covering the coronal portion of tooth (above the gum line).
Porcelain Veneers - A thin layer of porcelain, (fabricated by a laboratory) bonded to a natural tooth to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, and straighten teeth or change color and/or shape.
Post - Thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal therapy; provides retention for a “coping” that replaces lost tooth structure and retains crown.
Post and Core - Post and build-up to replace lost tooth structure and retain crown.
Premolar - Another name for bicuspid.
Preventive Dentistry - Education and treatment devoted to and concerned with preventing the development of dental disease.
Primary Teeth - The first set of teeth that humans get, lasting until the permanent teeth come in; also referred to as deciduous teeth or baby teeth.
Prognosis - The anticipated outcome of treatment.
Prophylaxis (prophy) - Simple cleaning of teeth with a rubber wheel and dental toothpaste.
Prosthesis - An artificial appliance for the replacement of a body part.
Prosthodontics - The dental specialty dealing with the replacement of missing teeth and other oral structures.
Prosthodontist - Dental specialist skilled in restoring or replacing teeth with fixed or removable prosthesis (appliance), maintaining proper occlusion; treats facial deformities with artificial prostheses such as eyes, ears and noses.
Pulp - The hollow chamber inside the crown of the tooth that contains its nerves and blood vessels.
Pulp Cap - A medicated covering over a small area of exposed pulp tissue.
Pulp Chamber - The center or innermost portion of the tooth containing the pulp.
Pulpectomy - Removal of the entire pulp from the canals in the root.
Pulpitis - An often painful inflammation of the dental pulp or nerve.
Pulpotomy - The removal of a portion of the tooth’s pulp.
Pyorrehea - Older term for periodontal (gum) disease.

Q

Quadrant - The dental term for the division of the jaws into four parts, beginning at the midline of the arch and extending towards the last tooth in the back of the mouth. There are four quadrants in the mouth; each quadrant generally contains five to eight teeth.

R

Rebase - The process of refitting a denture by replacing the base material.
Receded Gums - A condition characterized by the abnormal loss of gum tissue due to infection or bone loss.
Referral - When a dental patient from one office is sent to another dentist, usually a specialist, for treatment or consultation.
Reimplantation - Insertion and temporary fixation of partial or completely avulsed tooth or teeth, resulting from traumatic injury.
Reline - The process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture with a base material.
Replantation - The return of a tooth to its socket.
Resorption - The breakdown and assimilation of the bone that supports the tooth, i.e., bone loss.
Restoration - Any material or device used to replace lost tooth structure (filling or crown) or to replace a lost tooth or teeth (bridge, dentures, complete or partial).
Retained Root - Partial root structure remaining in the jaw after extraction or fracture of a natural tooth.
Retainer - A removable dental appliance, usually used in orthodontics, that maintains space between teeth or holds teeth in a fixed position until the bone solidifies around them.
Retrograde Filling - A method of sealing the root canal by preparing and filling it from the root tip, generally done at the completion of an apicoectomy.
Root - The part of the tooth below the crown, normally encased in the jawbone. It is made up of dentin, includes the root canal, and is covered by cementum.
Root Canal - The hollow part of the tooth’s root; it runs from the tip of the root into the pulp.
Root Planing - The process of scaling and planing exposed root surfaces to remove all calculus, plaque, and infected tissue.
Root Resection - Removal of a portion of the root structure of the diseased tooth, retaining the remaining natural tooth.
Rubber Dam - Soft latex sheet used to establish isolation of one or more teeth from contamination by oral fluids and to keep materials from falling to the back of the throat.

S

Saliva - Clear lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells and undigested food particles.
Saliva Ejector - Suction tube placed in the mouth to remove saliva.
Salivary Glands - Glands located under tongue and in cheeks to produce saliva.
Scaling - A procedure used to remove plaque, calculus and stains from the teeth.
Scaling and Root Planing - Meticulous removal of plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces.
Sealant - A composite material applied to grooves of teeth to prevent decay.
Six-year Molar - The first permanent tooth to erupt, usually between the ages of five and six.
Socket - The hole in the jawbone into which the tooth fits.
Space Maintainer - A dental appliance that fills the space of a lost tooth (or teeth) and prevents the other teeth from moving into the space; used especially in orthodontic and pediatric treatment.
Splint - Connection of two or more teeth so they function as a stronger single structure.
Stainless Steel Crown - A pre-made metal crown, shaped like a tooth that is used to temporarily cover a seriously decayed or broken tooth; used most often on children’s teeth.
Subgingival Scaling - The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth below the gum line.
Supernumerary Tooth - Extra tooth

T

TMD (or TMJ) Disorder - Temporomandibular disorder; term given to condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open or move the jaw. The temporomandibular joint is the point where the lower jaw attaches to the skull.
Tooth Bud - Early embryonic structure that becomes a tooth.
Topical Anesthetic - Ointment that produces a mild anesthesia when applied to the tooth surface.
Torus - Common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw.
Transplant - Placing a natural tooth in the empty socket of another tooth.
Trauma - Injury caused by external force, chemical or temperature extremes, or poor tooth alignment.
Treatment Plan - A written report prepared by a dentist showing their recommended treatment of any dental disease, defect, or injury.

U

Unerrupted Tooth - A tooth that has not pushed through the gum and assumed its correct position in the dental arch.

V

Veneer - Plastic or porcelain facing bonded directly to a tooth to improve its appearance. See laminate.

W

Wisdom Teeth - Third (last) molars that usually erupt at age 18- 25.

X

Xerostomia - Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva.