Glossary of Dental Terms

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tooth anatomy


  • Abfraction: The notch at the gumline of a tooth that is the result of excessive forces placed on that tooth for an extended time. Previously these areas were thought to be areas of abrasion caused by toothbrushing.
  • Abutment: A tooth or implant used to support / anchor a prosthesis (bridge, partial denture, etc.).
  • Abscess: A localized inflammation due to a collection of pus in the bone or soft tissue, usually caused by an infection.
  • Acute: Sudden or severe. Symptoms appear, change, or worsen rapidly. The opposite of chronic.
  • Air Abrasion: The use of finely graded aluminum oxide powder administered under compressed air through a very fine tip. Useful in early small cavities, repair of chips, removal of discoloration and stains – usually does not require anesthesia. Also known as micro air abrasion and kinetic cavity preparation. Sandblasting instead of drilling.
  • Amalgam: A dental filling material, composed of mercury, silver and other metals, used to fill teeth.
  • Alveolitis: Some people will experience localized inflammation and infection in the tooth socket 48 hours after surgery. This has commonly been called a dry socket (alveolitis). It is not dry, however, and the name is derived from the appearance of the socket which is commonly void of a normal blood clot or granulating (healing) tissue. Statistically, it is more common in people older than 25 years and in women. It is also seen more often in people who had to have their tooth removed than people who elected to have them removed. Alveolitis will occur in 1% to 5% of people regardless of the surgeon’s skill or surgical method chosen. A dry socket is typically the result of something that has dislodged the normal blood clot, such as smoking, drinking through a straw, brushing the area, or trying to clean the extraction site.
  • Alveoloplasty: A surgical procedure used to recontour the supporting bone structures in preparation of a complete or partial denture.
  • Anesthetic: A class of drugs that eliminates or reduces pain.
  • 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 surgical removal of the tip of a tooth root.


  • Bicuspid: A two-cusped tooth found between the molar and the cuspid.
  • Biopsy: A process of removing tissue to determine the absence or existence of pathology.
  • Bitewing x-rays: X-rays taken of the crowns of teeth to check for decay as well as the supporting bone between teeth.
  • Bleaching: The technique of applying a chemical agent to the teeth to whiten them.
  • Bonding: Often considered the same as tooth-colored filling. Technically it is a process to chemically etch the tooth’s enamel to better attach or bond tooth-colored filling material, veneers, or crowns.
  • Bone loss: The breakdown and loss of the bone that supports the teeth, usually caused by infection or long-term occlusal (chewing areas of the teeth) stress.
  • Bridge: A non-removable restoration that is used to replace missing teeth.
  • Bruise: Bruises occur when blood is released from the capillaries and is trapped under the skin.
  • Bruxism: The involuntary clenching or grinding of the teeth.
  • Buccal: Refers to the cheek side of back tooth.


  • Calculus: Plaque bacteria that were never removed completely with brushing and flossing. 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 big front tooth, commonly called the eye tooth or cuspid.
  • Cap: Another term for crown.
  • Caries: The technical term for decay which is the progressive breaking down or dissolving of tooth structure, caused by the acid produced by bacteria.
  • Cavity: The lay term for tooth decay. Also, the technical term for the hole that is left after decay has been removed.
  • 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 covering over the root of the tooth (nerve > dentin > cementum).
  • Chronic: A condition that is continuous or persistent over an extended period of time. The opposite of acute. A chronic condition is one that is long-standing, not easily or quickly resolved.
  • Clenching: The forceful holding together of the upper and lower teeth.
  • Composite: A tooth-colored filling made of plastic resin and porcelain.
  • Cosmetic dentistry: Any dental treatment or repair rendered to improve the appearance of the teeth or mouth.
  • Crown: The portion of a tooth that is covered by enamel, that is above the gumline. Also a dental restoration that covers the entire tooth and restores it to its original shape.
  • Crown lengthening: A surgical procedure exposing more tooth for restorative purposes (removes gum and/or bone).
  • Curettage: A deep scaling of that portion of the tooth below the gum line. Purpose is to remove calculus and infected gum tissue.
  • Cuspid: See canine tooth.
  • Cusp(s): The point of a tooth’s chewing surface.


  • Decay: See caries.
  • Deciduous: See primary teeth.
  • Dental floss: A thin string that is inserted between the teeth to remove food and plaque. See more about flossing, click here.
  • Dental hygienist: A dental professional specializing in teaching oral health and also cleaning the teeth by removing plaque and calculus. Dental hygienists must be licensed, and their degree is RDH (registered dental hygienist).
  • Dentin: The part of the tooth that is under both the enamel which covers the crown and the cementum which covers the root.
  • Denture: A removable appliance used to replace teeth. A complete denture replaces all of the teeth, a partial denture replaces some teeth. See also partial denture.
  • DDS: Doctor of Dental Surgery or DMD, Doctor of Dental Medicine. Degrees given to dental school graduates. Both degrees are the equivalent, it just depends on which degree a particular dental school confers. Dental school is four years of training after a college degree (same as a medical doctor).
  • Diagnodent: see laser cavity detection
  • 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.
  • Direct restoration: Restorations in dental terminology refer to repairs of teeth, like fillings; however, there are many ways to repair teeth in addition to fillings. Fillings, whether they are gold foil, silver/amalgam, or tooth-colored composite fillings are all placed directly into teeth and are completed as one continuous procedure – these are direct restorations. Indirect restorations include inlays, onlays, and crowns. These types of restorations are made after the tooth has been shaped (also called prepared), and are cemented or bonded in as a separate procedure – these are indirect restorations.
  • Distal: Refers to the side of tooth, between teeth, towards the back. See mesial.
  • DMD: see DDS.
  • Dry socket: see Alveolitis.


  • 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.
  • Extraction: The removal of a tooth. See Care of Your Mouth After An Extraction.
  • Excision: Surgical removal of bone or tissue.
  • Exostosis: The overgrowth of normal bone.
  • Extracoronal: The outside of the crown of the tooth.
  • Extraoral: Outside of the mouth.


  • Facial: Refers to the cheek(lip)side of a front (or back) tooth. See buccal, lingual.
  • Filling: Material used to fill a cavity or replace part of a tooth.
  • 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.
  • Frenum: Muscle fibers covered by a mucous membrane that attaches the cheek, lips and or tongue to associated dental mucosa.
  • Frenectomy: The removal of a frenum.


  • Gingiva: The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.
  • Gingivectomy: The surgical removal of gingiva (gum).
  • Gingivitis: An inflammation or infection of the gingiva (gum tissue); the initial stage of gum disease.
  • Gingivoplasty: A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva (gum).
  • Gluma: Gluma is a desensitizing chemistry for treating and preventing dentinal hypersensitivity. Gluma’s patented (Heraeus Kulzer) glutaraldehyde/HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) formula acts in seconds to seal dentinal tubules, preventing the fluid shifting recognized as the primary cause of localized hypersensitivity. Gluma also inhibits the growth of bacteria, which are also indicated as a cause of sensitivity. Gluma’s patented formula works within the dentinal tubule complex by reacting with protein fluids to fo