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Dental Terms Glossary

Not sure what something on our site means? Or maybe you just want to brush-up on your dental health care vocabulary? This glossary is a great guide to help anyone navigate the world of dentistry. Whether you’re curious about baby teeth or wisdom teeth, here’s a great resource to learn about some of the dental basics.

It’s important to be completely informed about your own health. If you aren’t certain what a word or phrase means, this could prevent you from making the best decision possible about your own dental health care. At Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S., we’re more than happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.


Abscess – A painful infection. In the mouth, it can be caused by an infected tooth or periodontal disease.

ADA – American Dental Association.

Amalgam – Material made from mercury and other alloy mixtures used to restore a drilled portion of a tooth. This material, for the most part, has been replaced by composites.

Anterior teeth – Front teeth. Also called incisors and cuspids.

Apthous ulcer – A painful open sore inside the mouth. It is not contagious and will resolve in 7 – 10 days.

Arch – The upper or lower jaw.


Baby bottle tooth decay – Caused by sugary substances in formula and some juices, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby’s mouth.

Bicuspids -A premolar tooth; tooth with two cusps, which are pointed or rounded eminences on or near the masticating surface of a tooth.

Bitewings – X-rays that help a dentist diagnose cavities.

Bonding – Application of tooth-colored resin materials to the surface of the teeth.

Bridge – A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or otherwise attached to the adjacent teeth or implant replacements.

Bruxism – Teeth grinding.


Calculus – A hard deposit of mineralized substance adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth or prosthetic devices.

Canal – The narrow chamber inside the tooth’s root.

Canines – Also called cuspids.

Canker sore – See apthous ulcer.

Caries – A commonly used term for tooth decay, or cavities.

Cementation – The placement of a fixed crown or bridge with dental cement to ensure proper performance.

Cold sore – Usually occurs on the outside of the mouth, usually on or near the nose or lips. A cold sore is contagious because it is caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Composite filling – Tooth colored restorations, also known as resin fillings. C

omposite resin – A tooth colored resin combined with silica or porcelain and used as a restoration material.

Contouring – The process of reshaping teeth.

Crown – An artificial tooth replacement that restores missing tooth structure by surrounding the remaining tooth structure. It can also be placed on a dental implant.

Cusps – The pointed parts on top of the back teeth’s chewing surface.

Cuspids – Front teeth that typically have a protruding edge.


Dentin – The tooth layer underneath the enamel.

Denture – A removable set of teeth.


Enamel – The hard crystalline material that covers the outside of a tooth.

Endodontics – A form of dentistry that addresses problems affecting the tooth’s root or nerve.


Floss – Thin, wax coated dental string used for removing particles and plaque in between teeth.

Fluorosis – A harmless over-exposure to fluoride and resulting sometimes in tooth discoloration.


Gingiva – Another word for gum tissue.

Gingivitis – A minor disease of the gums caused by plaque.

Gum disease – An infection of the gum tissues. Also called periodontal disease.


Halitosis – Also called bad breath. Bad breath can occur from bacteria in the mouth or can be a sign of more other health problems.


Impacted teeth – A condition in which a tooth fails to erupt or only partially erupts.

Implant – A permanent appliance used to replace a missing tooth.

Incisor – Front teeth with cutting edges; located in the center or on the sides near the front.

Inlay – An artificial filling made of various materials, including porcelain, resin, or gold.


Laminate veneer – A shell that is bonded to the enamel of a front tooth. The shell is usually thin and made from porcelain resin.


Malocclusion – Bad bite relationship.

Mandible – The lower jaw.

Maxilla – The upper jaw.

Molar – Usually the largest teeth, near the rear of the mouth. Molars have large chewing surfaces.

Mouth guards – Coverings worn over teeth. Used to protect teeth from injury in sports.


Nerves – An enclosed cable-like bundle of axons in the nervous system. A common pathway for impulses transmitted along each axon to different organs.

Nitrous Oxide – Also known as laughing gas. Calms anxieties and increases pain tolerance. Safe drug, with no documented side effects.


Onlay – A filling designed to protect the chewing surface of a tooth.

Orthodontics – A field of dentistry that deals with tooth and jaw alignment.

Overdenture – A non-fixed dental appliance applied to a small number of natural teeth or implants.

Oral Cancer – Can include cancer of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses and throat.


Palate – Roof of the mouth.

Partial denture – A removable appliance that replaces missing teeth.

Pediatric Dentistry – A field of dentistry that deals with children’s teeth

Perio pocket – An opening formed by receding gums.

Periodontal disease – Infection of the gum tissues. Also called gum disease.

Periodontist – A dentist who treats diseases of the gums.

Permanent teeth – The teeth that erupt after primary teeth. Also called adult teeth.

Plaque – A sticky, colorless substance that covers the teeth after sleep or periods between brushing.

Posterior teeth – The bicuspids and molars. Also called the back teeth.

Primary teeth – A person’s first set of teeth. Also called baby teeth or temporary teeth.

Prophylaxis – The act of cleaning the teeth by a professional.

Prosthodontics – The field of dentistry that deals with artificial dental appliances.

Pulp – The inner tissues of the tooth containing blood, nerves and connective tissue.


Receding gum – A condition where the gums move away from the crown of the tooth, exposing the root surface. Occurs as part of the normal aging process but can be accelerated by bruxism or periodontal disease.

Recontouring – Reshaping the teeth; a small amount of tooth enamel is removed to change the size of a tooth.

Resin filling – An artificial filling used to restore teeth. Also called a composite filling.

Root canal – A procedure in which a tooth’s nerve is removed and an inner canal cleansed and later filled.

Root planing – Scraping or cleansing of teeth to remove heavy buildup of tartar below the gum line.


Sealant – A synthetic material placed on the tooth’s surface that protects the enamel and chewing surfaces.


TMJ – Temporomandibular joint disorder. Health problems related to the jaw joint just in front of the ear.

Tarter – A hardened substance (also called calculus) that sticks to the tooth’s surface.


Veneer – A laminate applied or bonded to the tooth.


Whitening – A process that employs special bleaching agents for restoring the color of teeth.

Wisdom tooth – Third set of molars that erupt last in adolescence.

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