Dental Glossary


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Abscess
Infection caused by severe decay, trauma, or gum disease. You may have pain and swelling.
Abutment
(For a bridge) An abutment for a bridge uses two or more teeth to fill the toothless space. An abutment is a prepared tooth.
Acrylic
This is a plastic widely used in dentistry for various purposes.
Acrylic resin is used in making impression trays.
Acrylic veneer is a tooth-colored layer of plastic placed over the surface of a crown or tooth.
Acrylic temporary:
Once a tooth is prepared for a crown, a temporary crown is placed in the mouth. This is fabricated through a direct technique performed by your dentist. The acrylic temporary will provide similar function while your permanent tooth is being made.
In some cases, a dentist may determine that an acrylic crown (temporary) needs to be fabricated for long term use. In this case, a heat and pressure cured acrylic is used.
Alloy (Dental or Metal)
There are numerous alloys used in the making of dental restorations. The following alloy classifications, set by the American Dental Association Council on Dental Materials, will be helpful to you when reading this web page:
  • High noble alloys have a noble metal content of 60% or greater. At least 40% must be gold.
  • Noble alloys have a noble metal content of at least 25%.
  • Predominantly base alloys are less than 25% noble metal.
NOTE: Noble metals include gold, platinum and palladium. (Source: Identalloy® Council)
Amalgam
Typical silver colored filling made of mix of silver, tin, mercury, and some other trace elements like copper. Advantages - placement easier than other materials, cost. Disadvantage - color, breaks down slowly over time, allows decay to advance without easy detection, acts as wedge to tooth and can cause fracture.
Articulator
Metal or plastic device designed with a hinge to reproduce the open, close and side-to-side movement of the lower jaw.
Baby Teeth
The first set of 20 teeth that you have. You lose them between the ages of 5 and 12.
Bonding
The covering of a tooth surface to correct stained or damaged teeth, by painting a layer of plastic on the tooth. The practice of attaching brackets to your teeth in orthodontics and of attaching resin or enamel-like compounds to your teeth in cosmetic dentistry. Bonding is also a process that allows for a strong connection between a dental material and your tooth. This is the most effective seal in dentistry today.
Bridge
One or more artifical teeth attached, usually on both sides, by crowns to adjacent natural teeth. It is used to maintain space and function for missing teeth. May be made of gold or porcelain on gold. Often used when one or more teeth are missing, a bridge consists of a replacement tooth that is attached to crowns on the adjacent teeth. The replacement tooth is shaped to fit the contours of its adjacent teeth, and the bridge is cemented to the teeth. (Refer to crown for details)
Bruxism
Tooth grinding, often caused by stress. Most often done unconsciously at night.
Canines
The pointy and not prominent teeth next to the lateral incisors. They have one point and are also called cuspids.
Cap
See Crown
Cavity
A small hole in one of your teeth caused by tooth decay caused by bacteria.
Cementum
The bony substance that covers the root of your tooth.
Central Teeth
The two upper and two lower teeth that are located in the center of your mouth.
Ceramic
See Porcelain
Composite
Tooth-colored resin filling materials often used in place of amalgam. There are many proven composite systems on the market. The successful evolution of bonding procedures, adhesives and composite materials have been documented since 1986. There are two types of materials widely used and accepted and they are classified as hybrids or microfills.
  1. ConceptTM is one manufacturers name for their microfill material used in inlay/onlay composite fabrication. This material gives superior esthetics and is exceptionally gentle to your other teeth.
  2. Herculite XRVTM is a hybrid composite similar to Concept in appearance and wear characteristics.
The primary difference between hybrid and microfill composites are as follows:
  1. Microfills have very small particle size. The advantage is that their wear resistance, polishablity and esthetics are very high; however, they are not good for bonding procedures during placement.
  2. Hybrids have large particle sizes and are extremely good at bonding and allow for some patients the possibility to have a bridge made.
Crossbite
This condition occurs when some of your upper teeth improperly overlap your lower teeth when you bite down.
Crowding
A term for having too many teeth in too small of a space in your mouth.
Crown (Cap), Full
A crown or a cap is a cover for a decayed or damaged tooth made of porcelain and/or metal. The part of your tooth above the gum; also a type of dental restoration. A crown reproduces all of the same aspects of a natural tooth. Once a tooth has been trimmed down and decay has been removed, it is impressioned so that it will be able to be reproduced in dental stone. A dental technician, an experienced craftsman, utilizes dental alloys, ceramics, acrylics or composites to reproduce an esthetic, hygienic and functional tooth.
Crown (Metal-Free)
When a dentist determines that a tooth needs a crown, a treatment plan is established. When the appearance of the crown is crucial, a metal-free crown may be prescribed. This allows for a more natural look. Within recent years the all-ceramic crown (otherwise known as porcelain) has evolved. The ceramic materials used today have been studied with excellent results for long-term success. There are various materials that can be used in making a metal-free crown . . . .
Cuspid
The pointy teeth next to the lateral teeth. They have one point and are also called canines. Also known as the "Dracula Teeth" .
Dental Laboratory
An important part of dental services. This specialty deals with the design, fabrication and repair of dental appliances (crowns, complete dentures, removable partial dentures, crown and bridge) under the direction and supervision of the dentist. Once the dentist establishes the treatment plan and the tooth or teeth are prepared, an impression is made of your mouth and sent to the laboratory. There are several fabrication phases and checkpoints within a dental lab that contribute to the end result. Refer to Crown and Bridge to see how a crown is made. In as much as it takes years of experience and training to develop these technical skills, this is not a specialty that requires mandatory licensing or certification. There are approximately only 5,500 Certified Dental Technicians in the United States today and approximately 50,000 employed dental technicians.
Dentin
The second layer of a tooth that supports the enamel. It is a yellow bony material that contains some of the tooth’s nerve fibers.
Dentures
A synthetic set of teeth that replace all your upper and/or lower teeth.
Direct and Indirect (Technique)
For our purposes, we refer to the direct technique being a procedure performed by the dentist chairside. For example, an amalgam filling is a direct procedure. Many of the procedures listed in dental cosmetics may be performed directly or indirectly. There are applications for each of these techniques. The primary advantage to the direct technique is that they are performed and usually completed in one appointment. Indirect techniques require impressioning your mouth and having your restoration made outside of the mouth. Often two or more appointments are required. An indirect technique is usually performed by a dental technician, trained and skilled in anatomy, function and esthetics. Though these procedures are more costly, the materials and techniques used will result in long term success.
Edentulous (Fully and Partially)
Simply stated, fully edentulous refers to an individual that has no teeth at all in either the upper or lower jaw. Partially edentulous refers to missing one or more teeth.
Enamel
A natural, hard mineral-compound that covers the exposed part of your teeth. It protects the tooth from the wear and tear of chewing. It is also the hardest substance in the body.
Extraction
The removal of teeth - may be simple or surgical.
First Bicuspid
The teeth just behind the cuspids. Each bicuspid has two cusps or points. They are also know as premolars.
Fistula
A bump or boil on the gum tissue, which is a tract, in which an abscessed tooth can drain.
Gingivitis
Inflammation of the gum tissue caused by the bacteria in the plaque and or tarter build-up in the mouth. Precursor to periodontitis if not treated.
Gum
The pink tissue around your 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 method for replacing a missing tooth. The implant is attached permanently to your jaw. 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).
Implant Hygiene
In as much as good oral hygiene habits are important, in implant dentistry they are even more important. The design of the teeth that are fixed to the implant is critical to allow the patient easy access to cleaning.
Implant Prosthodontics
This is a branch of implant dentistry that is concerned directly with the restorative phase following implant placement and the overall treatment plan before and after the placement of dental implants. This is not considered a specialty by The American Dental Association.
Implant Dental Technician
A skilled dental technician that has training and experience in the fabrication of pre-surgical aids and prosthetic construction. The implant dental technician is very much a part of the implant team.
Incisor
Another name for the central and lateral teeth in your mouth.
Inlay/Onlay
A gold, porcelain, or composite custom-made filling cemented into the tooth. If it covers the tips of the teeth or otherwise supports the tips it is called an onlay. It is usually recommended as a conservative alternative to a full crown. Oftentimes when decay is removed, these procedures are recommended. In cosmetic dentistry, the evolution of materials and techniques allow for tooth-colored materials. In as much as there is a controversy over the use of amalgam in fillings (direct procedure), the use of tooth-colored materials is best used as a cosmetic procedure that also produces long-term success. There are various materials that can be used to a direct inlay or onlay:
Lateral Teeth
The upper and lower teeth adjacent to your central teeth.
Lucite Porcelain (IPS Empress ®)
This is a ceramic material. Empress' flexural strength lies between tooth enamel and amalgam. This characteristic makes Empress an excellent choice for simulating natural teeth. The esthetic characteristics of this material are also superior to most metal-free systems.
Good for: Not good for: 
Crowns
Veneers
Inlays/Onlays
Bridges
Malocclusion
The dental term for poor positioning of your teeth.
Metal-Free
Refers to a restoration that is made without the use of metal/alloy.
Night Guard
A hard, custom-fitted, plastic mouthpiece to prevent damage from grinding teeth at night. These are nothing like the "boil and bite" type sports guards sold in sporting goods stores.
Occlusion
A term that refers to the process that takes place when your teeth come together and touch. The occlusal surface is the biting area. Occlusal force means the amount of pressure applied during clenching, chewing or side-to-side movement. Occlusal design is the process of making the teeth to meet the patients functional requirements.
Open Bite
A condition in which the teeth don’t close or come together in the front, side or back of your mouth.
Orthodontics
Treatment to straighten teeth and correct bites.
Orthodontist
A dentist specially trained to realign teeth and jaws.
Osseointegration
A condition that exists when a titanium implant is inserted, screwed or pressed into living bone. The result is a biological bond of living bone to the titanium implant. In essence, the two become one.
Periodontist
Specializes exclusively in the treatment of the gums. Also permitted to perform surgical procedures, such as implant placement.
 Periodontitis
Gum disease caused by bacteria; inflamation of gum tissue which causes bone loss resulting in tooth loss if untreated. Once you have it, it never goes away and can only be controlled, not cured. Periodontal disease has been shown to affect every other organ and part of you body, not just teeth, because the bacteria travel throughout your body and stress you immune system.
Porcelain
A tooth-colored, "sandlike" material consisting mainly of kaolin, feldspar and flux. It fuses at a high temperature to form a hard substance much like enamel in appearance.
Porcelain Laminate Veneer
A thin porcelain shell bonded to the tooth to correct imperfections in shape and color.
Precision Attachment
Refers to the attaching of a partial denture to a fixed crown or bridge. The main reasons for a precision attachment are:
  • Cosmetics (Claspless partial that attaches to a crown or bridge)
  • Allows for a way to put the bridge in that may have preps that would otherwise not allow a path.
  • Directing occlusal forces where they need to be.
Preparation
When a general dentist grinds down a natural tooth to allow for a crown to be placed over it, the tooth stump is called a preparation or a prep.
Primary Teeth
The first set of teeth that come in. They are also called your baby teeth.
Prophy
Simple cleaning of teeth with rubber wheel and dental toothpaste.
(Dental) Prosthesis or Prosthetics
Prosthesis is a general term that applies to any artificial replacement for a missing part of the body. Prosthetic Dentistry (Prosthodontics) is the art and science of fabricating artificial replacements for missing or damaged teeth.
Protocol
Implant protocol is the regimen and discipline that is strictly followed by the general dentist, the implant surgeon, the implant dental technician and any other team member. One of the most critical aspects of implant dentistry is proper pre-treatment planning within a team approach.
Pulp
The soft inner structure of a tooth. It consists of nerves and blood vessels.
Reinforced Porcelain
There are several ceramic materials in use today. For the sake of time, ease of understanding and continuity, we will only describe one reinforced porcelain available:OPTEC HSPThis is a high-strength reinforced porcelain. It is considered to be 2-1/2 times stronger than traditional porcelains.
    • Good for:
      Front and back crowns, inlays/onlays and veneers. Sometimes suitable for small bridges when there is enough room.
    • Not good for:
      People that clench or grind their teeth or have an abnormal biting habits.
Restoration
In dentistry, the term restoration refers to reproducing a tooth using metal and/or tooth-colored materials. This fabrication process is done by a dental technician.
Restoring Doctor
In Implantology, the dentist is referred to as the restoring doctor. His/her responsibilities are to diagnose, evaluate and to treatment plan the implant patient. The steps to follow in having implants should be personally suited to you by your restoring doctor.
Root
The lower part of your teeth that is in your gums.
Root Canal Therapy
Cleaning out the inside nerve of the tooth to preserve the tooth.
Root Planing
The removal of hard deposits, with metal scalers, on the root surface and smoothing the root surface to allow for reattachment of the gums to the tooth and ultimately pocket reduction.
Root Form Implant
Root form implants date back thousands of years to the Egyptians and the Incas. However, in 1981, a 15-year clinical study was completed on the use of cylinder shaped (root form) titanium implants. Placed in the lower jaw, approximately 90% of the reported implants were still in function at that time. Today, there are numerous types of root form designs.
Sealant
Plastic coating applied to grooves of teeth to prevent decay.
Second Bicuspid
The teeth just behind the first bicuspids. Each bicuspid has two cusps or points.
Secondary Teeth
Your second set of teeth, or adult teeth.
Skeletal Abnormality
A genetic disposition where the upper and lower jaws don’t fit together because of size discrepancies.
Spacing
A condition where gaps between teeth are too large or too small and require orthodontic correction.
Success for Dental Implants
The term success can refer to many different areas. The following information should help you in understanding implant success.
In the beginning, the restoring dentist and patient discuss and agree upon the goals and objectives to be achieved. There are five categories to be considered. To achieve 100% success in each category is not often required.
  1. Esthetics:
    How important appearance is depends upon what tooth or teeth are being replaced (front or back) and whether or not the patient's concern is for cosmetics or other areas. This may not be a high priority for some patients.
  2. Function:
    Restoring a patient back to function (being able to eat properly) is extremely critical in the fully edentulous patient as well as the partially edentulous patient.
  3. Implant Hygiene:
    The ability for a patient to clean around the implant is always critical. Bacteria or plaque can contribute to a possible infection and possible implant failure.
  4. Longevity:
    A 14-year old patient will require much consideration in this category as opposed to an 84-year old patient. However, there are many other factors to consider in how long the teeth and implants may last. Design will be a very important consideration.
  5. Phonetics:
    This refers to speech. In most instances, the design of the teeth being fabricated require a lot of consideration for maintaining a patients speech/phonetics.
Surgeon
Implantology is not considered a specialty branch of dentistry. Surgical procedures can be performed by an oral surgeon, a periodontist or a general dentist. The surgeon's responsibility is to select the appropriate shape and size of implant to be placed precisely where the dentist has requested. The qualified surgeon also performs other implant related surgeries, such as bone grafting, sinus lifts, etc.
Team Approach
In conventional dentistry, a dentist works alone. His/her practice revolves primarily around their skills and experience. Implant dentistry is a multi-skilled field. The general dentist is referred to as the restoring doctor and works closely with the oral surgeon or periodontist who will be performing the surgical aspects. The implant dental technician will also be involved with making of the teeth. Also involved on the implant team are the x-ray technicians, dental assistants, surgical assistants, implant manufacturers and, of course, the patient's positive attitude.
TMJ
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome occurs when patients experience pain, clicking or popping in the jaw joint in front of each ear.
Underbite
The lower teeth overlap the upper teeth; not considered within normal range of occlusion.
Veneers
The latest development in porcelain dentistry, veneers are made of porcelain and bonded to your teeth for a natural looking smile. A veneer refers to a thin covering of porcelain or composite over the enamel of a tooth. For our purposes, all cosmetic techniques described will be utilizing an indirect technique. This refers to fabrication procedures performed outside of the mouth that utilize the talents of a dental technician. Recommendations for veneer treatment are as follows:
  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Discolored teeth
  • Some malpositioned teeth
  • Correction of deformities
  • Cosmetic improvements (i.e.: shade, shape, lip support, cheek support, etc.)
Wisdom Teeth
The third set of molars at the very back of your mouth.