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Glossary of Terms

Discover the difference between various dental procedures as well as technical words you might hear around the office but may not be familiar with. This list of terms is provided by the American Dental Association (ADA).

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | I | J | L | M | P | R | S | T | U | V | X
  • Abrasion

    Tooth wear caused by forces other than chewing such as holding objects between the teeth or improper brushing.
  • Abutment

    A tooth (or implant) that supports a dental prosthesis.
  • Alveolar bone

    The part of the jaw that surround the roots of the teeth.
  • Alveolar process

    The curving part of the jaw into which the teeth are rooted.
  • Alveolus

    The socket in the alveolar bone into which the tooth’s root fits.
  • Amalgam

    An alloy used in direct dental restorations.
  • Analgesia

    Loss of pain sensations without loss of consciousness.
  • Ankylosis

    A condition where two hard tissues are fused together. When this happens to a tooth and the alveolar bone, the tooth partially erupts.
  • Anesthesia

    General Anesthesia: A controlled state of unconsciousness, accompanied by a partial or complete loss of protective reflexes, including loss of ability to independently maintain airway and respond purposefully to physical stimulation or verbal command, produced by a pharmacologic or non-pharmacologic method or combination thereof;
  • Analgesia/Intravenous Sedation

    A medically controlled state of depressed consciousness while maintaining the patient’s airway, protective reflexes and the ability to respond to stimulation or verbal commands. It includes intravenous administration of sedative and/or analgesic agent(s) and appropriate monitoring.
  • Local Anesthesia

    The loss of pain sensation over a specific area of the anatomy without loss of consciousness.
  • Regional Anesthesia

    A term used for local anesthesia. See Local Anesthesia.
  • Apicoectomy

    Removal of the tip of a tooth root.
  • Benign

    The mild character of an illness or the non-malignant character of a neoplasm.
  • Bicuspid

    A premolar tooth; a tooth with two cusps.
  • Bilateral

    Occurring on, or pertaining to, both right and left sides.
  • Biopsy

    Process of removing tissue for histologic evaluation.
  • Bitewing radiographs

    X-rays used to reveal the crowns of several upper and lower teeth as they bite down.
  • Bleaching

    A cosmetic dental procedure that whitens the teeth using a bleaching solution.
  • Bonding

    A composite resin applied to a tooth to change its shape and/or color. Bonding also refers to how a filling, orthodontic appliance or some fixed partial dentures are attached to teeth.
  • Bridge

    See Fixed Partial Denture and/or Removable Partial Denture.
  • Bruxism

    Constant grinding or clenching of teeth during they day or while asleep.
  • Calculus

    Hard deposit of mineralized material adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth.
  • Canal

    A relatively narrow tubular passage or channel.
  • Root Canal

    Space inside the root portion of a tooth containing pulp tissue.
  • Cariogenic

    Promotes tooth decay.
  • Caries

    Commonly used term for tooth decay.
  • Cavity

    Decay in tooth caused by caries; also referred to as carious lesion.
  • Cementum

    Hard connective tissue covering the tooth root.
  • Cleft Lip

    Birth defect in which one or more fissures form in the upper lip, which takes place while the fetus is growing.
  • Cleft Palate

    Congenital deformity resulting in lack of fusion of the soft and/or hard palate, either partial or complete.
  • Clenching

    The clamping and pressing of the jaws and teeth together in centric occlusion, frequently associated with psychological stress or physical effort.
  • Composite

    A dental restorative material made up of disparate or separate parts (e.g. resin and quartz particles).
  • Conscious Sedation

    A state in which patients are awake and can breathe and swallow on their own but are less aware of what is taking place.
  • Crown

    Anatomical Crown: That portion of tooth normally covered by, and including, enamel; Abutment Crown: Artificial crown serving for the retention or support of a dental prosthesis; Artificial Crown: Restoration covering or replacing the major part, or the whole of the clinical crown of a tooth; Clinical Crown: That portion of a tooth not covered by supporting tissues. Crown Lengthening: A surgical procedure exposing more tooth for restorative purposes by apically positioning the gingival margin and/or removing supporting bone.
  • Cusp

    The pointed portion of the tooth.
  • Cyst

    Pathological cavity, usually lined with epithelium, containing fluid or soft matter.
  • Debridement

    Removing foreign matter or dead tissue.
  • Decay

    The lay term for carious lesions in a tooth; decomposition of tooth structure.
  • Dental Prophylaxis

    Scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove coronal plaque, calculus, and stains.
  • Dental Prosthesis

    An artificial device that replaces one or more missing teeth.
  • Dental Specialist

    A dentist who has received postgraduate training in one of the recognized dental specialties. * DDS * DMD
  • Dentin

    That part of the tooth that is beneath enamel and cementum.
  • Dentition

    The teeth in the dental arch. * Permanent Dentition Refers to the permanent teeth in the dental arch. * Deciduous Dentition Refers to the deciduous or primary teeth in the dental arch.
  • Denture

    An artificial substitute for natural teeth and adjacent tissues.
  • Denture Base

    The part of the denture that holds the artificial teeth and fits over the gums.
  • Direct Restoration

    A restoration fabricated inside the mouth.
  • Dry Mouth

    See Xerostomia
  • Dry Socket

    Localized inflammation of the tooth socket following extraction due to infection or loss of blood clot; osteitis.
  • Edentulous

  • Enamel

    Hard calcified tissue covering dentin of the crown of tooth.
  • Endodontist

    A dental specialist who limits his/her practice to treating disease and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.
  • Erosion

    Wearing down of tooth structure, caused by chemicals (acids).
  • Eruption

    When a tooth emerges or pushes through the gums.
  • Evaluation

    Periodic Oral Evaluation: An evaluation performed on a patient of record to determine any changes in the patient’s dental and medical health status since a previous comprehensive or periodic evaluation. This may require interpretation of information acquired through additional diagnostic procedures. Report additional diagnostic procedures separately.
  • Limited Oral Evaluation

    Problem focused: an evaluation limited to a specific oral health problem. This may require interpretation of information acquired through additional diagnostic procedures. Definitive procedures may be required on the same date as the evaluation. Typically, patients receiving this type of evaluation have been referred for a specific problem and/or present with dental emergencies, trauma, acute infection, etc.
  • Comprehensive Oral Evaluation

    Typically used by a general dentist and/or a specialist when evaluating a patient comprehensively. It is a thorough evaluation and recording of the extraoral and intraoral hard and soft tissues. It may require interpretation of information acquired through additional diagnostic procedures. This would include the evaluation and recording of the patient’s dental and medical history and a general health assessment. It may typically include the evaluation and recording of dental caries, missing or unerupted teeth, restorations, occlusal relationships, periodontal conditions (including periodontal charting), hard and soft tissue anomalies, etc.
  • Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation

    Typically includes evaluation of periodontal conditions, probing and charting, evaluation and recording of the patient’s dental and medical history and general health assessment. It may include the evaluation and recording of dental caries, missing or unerupted teeth, restorations, occlusal relationships and oral cancer screening.
  • Detailed And Extensive Oral Evaluation—Problem-Focused, By Report

    A detailed and extensive problem-focused evaluation entails extensive diagnostic and cognitive modalities based on the findings of a comprehensive oral evaluation. Integration of more extensive diagnostic modalities to develop a treatment plan for a specific problem is required. The condition requiring this type of evaluation should be described and documented. Examples of conditions requiring this type of evaluation may include dentofacial anomalies, complicated perio-prosthetic conditions, complex temporomandibular dysfunction, facial pain of unknown origin, severe systemic diseases requiring multi-disciplinary consultation, etc.
  • Re-Evaluation—Limited, Problem Focused (established patient; not post-operative visit)

    This includes assessing the status of a previously existing condition. Examples of conditions requiring this type of evaluation may include: A traumatic injury where no treatment was rendered but the patient needs follow-up monitoring; Evaluation for undiagnosed continuing pain: A soft tissue lesion requiring follow-up evaluation.
  • Excision

    Surgical removal of bone or tissue.
  • Extraction

    The process or act of removing a tooth or tooth parts.
  • FADI

    Fellow, Academy of Dentistry International
  • FAGD

    Fellow, Academy of General Dentistry
  • Filling

    A lay term used for the restoring of lost tooth structure by using materials such as metal, alloy, plastic or porcelain.
  • Fixed Appliances

    Orthodontic devices, commonly known as braces, that are bonded to the teeth to produce different tooth movements to help reposition teeth for orthodontic therapy.
  • Fixed Partial Denture

    A fixed partial denture is a prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or attached to the abutment teeth or implant abutments adjacent to the space.
  • Fracture

    The breaking of a part, especially of a bony structure; breaking of a tooth.
  • Full-Mouth X-Rays

    A combination of 14 or more periapical and 4 bitewing films of the back teeth. This series of x-rays reveals all the teeth (their crowns and roots) and the alveolar bone around them.
  • General Anesthesia

    A deep level of sedation in which patients lose consciousness, feel no pain, and have no memory of what is taking place around them.
  • Gingiva

    Soft tissues overlying the crowns of unerupted teeth and encircling the necks of those that have erupted.
  • Gingival Hyperplasia

    An overgrowth of gingival tissues.
  • Gingivitis

    Inflammation of gingival tissue without loss of connective tissue.
  • Gingivectomy

    The excision or removal of gingiva.
  • Gingivoplasty

    Surgical procedure to reshape gingiva.
  • Graft

    A piece of tissue or alloplastic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.
  • Guided tissue regeneration (GTR)

    Procedure during flap surgery for periodontal disease in which a membrane is inserted between the alveolar bone and the bone graft to encourage the gum tissues to grow onto the alveolar bone.
  • Imaging, Diagnostic

    This would include, but is not limited to, CAT scans, MRIs, photographs, radiographs, etc.
  • Immediate Denture

    Prosthesis constructed for placement immediately after removal of remaining natural teeth.
  • Impacted Tooth

    An unerupted or partially erupted tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue so that complete eruption is unlikely.
  • Implant

    Material inserted or grafted into tissue.
  • Dental Implant

    A device specially designed to be placed surgically within or on the mandibular or maxillary bone as a means of providing for dental replacement; endosteal (endosseous); eposteal (subperiosteal); transosteal (transosseous).
  • Implantation, Tooth

    Placement of an artificial or natural tooth into an alveolus.
  • Inlay

    An indirect intracoronal restoration; a dental restoration made outside of the oral cavity to correspond to the form of the prepared cavity, which is then luted into the tooth.
  • Interproximal

    Between the teeth.
  • Intraoral

    Inside the mouth.
  • Intravenous Sedation

    Medications used intravenously (through the bloodstream) to produce varying levels of sedation.
  • Jaw

    A common name for either the maxilla or the mandible.
  • Labial

    Pertaining to or around the lip.
  • Lesion

    An injury or wound; area of diseased tissue.
  • Lingual

    Pertaining to or around the tongue; surface of the tooth directed toward the tongue; opposite of facial.
  • MAGD

    Mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry
  • Maintenance, Periodontal

    Therapy for preserving the state of health of the periodontium.
  • Malignant Having the properties of dysplasia, invasion, and metastasis.
  • Malocclusion

    Improper alignment of biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth.
  • Maryland Bridge

    A type of fixed partial denture not requiring crowns. The prosthesis is bonded to the natural teeth to secure it.
  • Maxilla

    The upper jaw.
  • Molar

    Teeth posterior to the premolars (bicuspids) on either side of the jaw; grinding teeth, having large crowns and broad chewing surfaces.
  • Mouthguard

    Device that fits over the teeth to prevent injury to the teeth, mouth or lips. May also refer to a device that prevents tooth grinding or treats temporomandibular disorders.
  • Mucous Membrane

    Lining of the oral cavity as well as other canals and cavities of the body; also called “mucosa.”
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    A disorder in which breathing stops for short periods of time during sleep.
  • Occlusal

    Pertaining to the biting surfaces of the premolar and molar teeth or contacting surfaces of opposing teeth or opposing occlusion rims.
  • Occlusion

    Any contact between biting or chewing surfaces of maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth.
  • Onlay

    An indirect restoration made outside the oral cavity that overlays a cusp or cusps of the tooth, which is then luted to the tooth.
  • Oral

    Pertaining to the mouth.
  • Oral And Maxillofacial Surgeon

    A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities, defects and esthetic aspects of the oral and maxillofacial regions.
  • Oral Mucosa

    The pink-red tissues that line the mouth.
  • Orthodontist

    A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the interception and treatment of malocclusion of the teeth and their surrounding structures.
  • Orthognathic Surgery

    Surgery performed to correct facial imbalances caused by abnormalities of the jaw bones.
  • Osseointegration

    The process by which bone heals around an implant.
  • Osteoplasty

    Surgical procedure that modifies the configuration of bone.
  • Osteotomy

    Surgical cutting of bone.
  • Overdenture

    A removable prosthetic device that overlies and may be supported by retained tooth roots or implants.
  • Palate

    The hard and soft tissues forming the roof of the mouth that separates the oral and nasal cavities.
  • Palliative

    Action that relieves pain but is not curative.
  • Partial Denture

    Usually refers to a prosthetic device that replaces missing teeth; see Fixed Partial Denture or Removable Partial Denture.
  • Parotid Glands

    Major salivary glands located in front of and below the ears.
  • Patient

    An individual who has established a professional relationship with a dentist for the delivery of dental health care. For matters relating to communication of information and consent, this term includes the patient’s parent, caretaker, guardian, or other individual as appropriate under state law and the circumstances of the case.
  • PC

    Personal Corporation
  • Pediatric Dentist

    A dental specialist whose practice is limited to treatment of children from birth through adolescence; formerly known as a pedodontist.
  • Pedodontist

    See Pediatric Dentist.
  • Pellicle

    A thin nonbacterial film from saliva that covers the teeth.
  • Periapical X-Ray

    An x-ray that shows several entire teeth (crowns and roots) and includes a small amount of the periapical bone (surrounding the root tips).
  • Periodontal

    Pertaining to the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.
  • Periodontal Abscess

    An infection in the gum pocket that can destroy hard and soft tissues.
  • Periodontal Disease

    Inflammatory process of the gingival tissues and/or periodontal membrane of the teeth, resulting in an abnormally deep gingival sulcus, possibly producing periodontal pockets and loss of supporting alveolar bone.
  • Periodontal Pocket

    Pathologically deepened gingival sulcus; a feature of periodontal disease.
  • Periodontist

    A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.
  • Periodontitis

    Inflammation and loss of the connective tissue of the supporting or surrounding structure of teeth with loss of attachment.
  • Plaque

    A soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth composed largely of bacteria and bacterial derivatives.
  • Post

    An elongated projection fitted and cemented within the prepared root canal, serving to strengthen and retain restorative material and/or a crown restoration.
  • Posterior

    Refers to teeth and tissues towards the back of the mouth (distal to the canines): maxillary and mandibular premolars and molars.
  • Precision Attachment

    Interlocking device, one component of which is fixed to an abutment or abutments and the other is integrated into a fixed or removable prosthesis in order to stabilize and/or retain it.
  • Premedication

    The use of medications prior to dental procedures.
  • Prophylaxis

    Scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove coronal plaque, calculus and stains.
  • Prosthesis

    Artificial replacement of any part of the body.
  • Prosthodontis

    A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the restoration of the natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth with artificial substitutes.
  • Pulp

    Connective tissue that contains blood vessels and nerve tissue which occupies the pulp cavity of a tooth.
  • Pulp Cavity

    The space within a tooth which contains the pulp.
  • Pulpectomy

    Complete removal of vital and non vital pulp tissue from the root canal space.
  • Pulpotomy

    Surgical removal of a portion of the pulp with the aim of maintaining the vitality of the remaining portion by means of an adequate dressing; pulp amputation.
  • Radiograph

    An image produced by projecting radiation, as x-rays, on photographic film. Commonly called x-ray.
  • Ranula

    A cyst that can develop under the tongue on the floor of the mouth.
  • Rebase

    To replace the denture base.
  • Reline

    To resurface the side of the denture that is in contact with the soft tissues of the mouth to make it fit more securely.
  • Removable Appliance

    Removable orthodontic appliances used to effect simple tipping movements of one tooth or several.
  • Removable Partial Denture

    A removable partial denture (removable bridge) is a prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth that can be removed by the patient.
  • Resorb

    To dissolve.
  • Retainer

    * Orthodontic Retainer: Appliance to stabilize teeth following orthodontic treatment. * Prosthodontic Retainer: A part of a fixed partial denture that attaches a pontic to the abutment tooth, implant abutment, or implant.
  • Root

    The anatomic portion of the tooth that is covered by cementum and is located in the alveolus (socket) where it is attached by the periodontal apparatus; radicular portion of tooth.
  • Root Canal

    The portion of the pulp cavity inside the root of a tooth; the chamber within the root of the tooth that contains the pulp.
  • Root Canal Therapy

    The treatment of disease and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.
  • Root Caries

    Tooth decay that forms on the roots.
  • Root Planing

    A procedure designed to remove microbial flora, bacterial toxins, calculus, and diseased cementum or dentin on the root surfaces and in the pocket.
  • Scaling

    Removal of plaque, calculus, and stain from teeth.
  • Sealants

    Plastic resin placed on the biting surfaces of molars to prevent bacteria from attacking the enamel and causing caries.
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome

    An autoimmune disorder (mostly affecting older women) that is characterized by partial or complete cessation of saliva and tears. It can be associated with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatic arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma.
  • Splint

    A device used to support, protect, or immobilize oral structures that have been loosened, replanted, fractured or traumatized. Also refers to devices used in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders.
  • Stomatitis

    Inflammation of the membranes in the mouth.
  • Sublingual Glands

    Major salivary glands located in the mucosa on the floor of the mouth.
  • Submandibular Glands

    Walnut-sized major salivary glands located beneath the tongue.
  • Suture

    Stitch used to repair incision or wound.
  • Temporary Removable Denture

    An interim prosthesis designed for use over limited period of time.
  • Temporomandibular (TMJ)

    The connecting hinge mechanism between the base of the skull (temporal bone) and the lower jaw (mandible).
  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

    Abnormal functioning of temporomandibular joint; also refers to symptoms arising in other areas secondary to the dysfunction.
  • Torus

    A bony elevation or protuberance of bone.
  • Unerupted

    Tooth/teeth that have not penetrated into the oral cavity
  • Veneer

    In the construction of crowns or pontics, a layer of tooth-colored material, usually, but not limited to, composite, porcelain, ceramic or acrylic resin, attached to the surface by direct fusion, cementation, or mechanical retention; also refers to a restoration that is luted to the facial surface of a tooth.
  • Xerostomia

    Decreased salivary secretion that produces a dry and sometimes burning sensation of the oral mucosa and/or cervical caries.
  • X-Ray