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The latest oral health news from the American Dental Association

Oral Care Glossary

Oral Care Glossary
Dental Speak, Defined.

Dentists and Hygienist have a language all their own. This guide breaks down the professional terminology into everyday language.

A

When the inside of the mouth gets hurt or irritated, bacteria may enter and cause an infection. Sometimes you will see a painful swelling filled with pus (a thick, yellowish fluid). If the pus can't drain out, the area will get more swollen and painful. This is known as an abscess. The abscess forms a barrier around the infection. This is one way that the body tries to keep a bacterial infection from spreading.

Is also referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic digestive disease that can erode the teeth and irritate the lining of the esophagus. GERD occurs when stomach acid flows into the esophagus and enters the mouth possibly causing damage to the enamel of the teeth.

Highly acidic foods can cause tooth erosion (dental erosion), which is the irreversible loss of tooth structure. These foods include soft drinks, which contain phosphoric acid; fruits and fruit juices, which contain citric acids; yogurt, which has lactic acid and sweeteners that contain sugar or corn syrup.

A hard, glassy form of plastic often used with other materials to create custom orthodontics, fillings and dentures.

This is a Seal Program developed by the American Dental Association (ADA) to approve that a dental product is safe and has clinical effectiveness. This Seal Program is a choice that dental and oral care manufacturing companies can choose to participate in. The ADA Seal of Approval is the gold standard among dental professionals and consumers who look for it when purchasing toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouth rinses.

In this final stage of gum disease, the fibers and bone supporting the teeth are destroyed, which can cause teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect the bite and, if aggressive treatment can't save them, teeth may need to be removed.

An inexpensive filling material made from silver, tin, zinc, copper and mercury. Mercury is nearly 50 percent of the mixture. This material is strong, but can tarnish or corrode over time.

A numbing agent that dulls pain in all or part of the mouth during dental work. This drug is injected in the cheek or gums and can last for hours.

Arterial plaque, also known as clogged arteries, develops from a fatty buildup called plaque in the inner walls of the arteries of the heart. Bacteria that form at the gumline and on the teeth may enter the blood stream during chewing, oral hygiene care (brushing/flossing) or a professional cleaning appointment. Published clinical studies have found that plaque in the heart arteries can lead to a heart attack or stroke and it is of vital importance to clean the mouth effectively to prevent this from occurring.

This type of flossing device can be a battery or an electrically operated device. It works like dental floss and can be used for people who have difficulty in flossing. Cleaning between the teeth helps to remove bacterial plaque formation and food debris and make the gum tissue healthier.

B

A form of tooth decay caused by constant sucking on a baby bottle. When a child is allowed to sip a baby bottle throughout the day without interruption, the sugars and carbohydrates provide an unending source of food for the bacteria that cause cavities.

Baby teeth are referred to as primary teeth. These teeth begin to form between 6 months and 1 year of age. The American Dental Association recommends that children visit their dentist after the first tooth erupts in the mouth. The dentist can check a baby's teeth to evaluate if tooth decay has occurred. It is also important that the dental hygienist review brushing instructions with the parents to make sure the teeth are healthy and clean. When the baby teeth are lost between 6 years and 12 years of age, permanent teeth will replace the baby teeth.

Foul-smelling breath, usually caused by the breakdown of food. Other culprits include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting.

Also called premolars, these teeth have two pointed cusps on their biting surface. The premolars are for crushing and tearing.

The overall alignment of teeth. This includes how the upper and lower jaw fit together and spacing between teeth and lips. Most irregularities can be fixed through orthodontics for comfort or appearance.

There are many options for whitening the teeth to help remove extrinsic stains such as coffee, tea, wine or tobacco. These whitening procedures may include using whitening toothpastes (for example, Colgate® Optic White™) to start and then at-home bleaching or in-office bleaching as other options to enhance the teeth and smile.

Gums may bleed after brushing or flossing, but persistent bleeding is not normal. If bleeding frequently occurs when you brush your teeth or floss, this could be a sign of gingivitis, or inflammation of the gumline, which is caused by the development of plaque biofilm. It is recommended that you see your dental professional for an oral examination and professional cleaning.

Bonding is the application of a tooth-colored composite resin (plastic) to repair a decayed, chipped, fractured or discolored tooth. Unlike veneers, which are manufactured in a laboratory and require a customized mold to achieve a proper fit, bonding can be done in a single visit. The procedure is called bonding because the material bonds to the tooth.

An appliance used to gradually move teeth into their proper alignment. Wires are bonded to the teeth and tightened over time to align the teeth. Braces are usually adjusted monthly to bring about the desired results, which may be achieved within a few months to a few years.

A fixed but removable denture made to replace one or more missing teeth. Bridges can be supported by natural teeth, implants or a combination of teeth and implants.

Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes helps to remove food particles that can damage teeth and gums over time.

The grinding or clenching of teeth, sometimes during sleep. Many believe this grinding is caused by stress or anxiety, but it can also occur due to misaligned teeth, disease or medicines.

A painful oral condition that affects the tongue, gums, lips, inside of the cheeks and roof of the mouth. The cause of primary burning mouth syndrome may be related to problems with taste and sensory nerves and the cause of secondary burning mouth syndrome could be related to nutritional deficiency, dry mouth, allergies to foods or flavoring and certain medications.

C

Calcium, like vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals, is essential to good oral health and body health. Calcium can be found naturally in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, and can be taken as a supplement to prevent osteoarthritis.

Sometimes called cuspids, these teeth at the front of the mouth are shaped like points (cusps) and are used for tearing food.

Swellings, spots or sores on the mouth, lips or tongue. Unlike cold sores, these are not contagious and are usually caused by stress, allergies or vitamin deficiencies.

Cap

A tooth-shaped crown cemented into place over a tooth, completely encasing the visible portion of the tooth. Caps improve the shape, size, strength and appearance of a tooth.

A gold alloy used to replace or fill teeth. Cast gold is more expensive and can create a shock when two gold teeth are next to each other in the mouth.

Tooth decay caused by bacteria that break down sugar into acid. Early decay, called dental caries, can be prevented with fluoride.

Regular and thorough toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste will decrease plaque buildup on the surface of your teeth and provide fluoride to strengthen the teeth. Foods and carbohydrates that are high in sugar content increase the risk of developing cavities because the plaque bacteria will use them as food to produce acids that can dissolve tooth enamel (outer layer of the tooth).

Cellulitis is a skin infection that is caused by bacteria and a person does not have to have a break in the skin to get it. Cellulitis can occur anywhere in the body usually the legs, face or arms. Many people experience this condition from skin problems (eczema, psoriasis), a cut or surgical wound, burn or insect bite, or certain systemic disease such as diabetes or a weak immune system.

Porcelain, most commonly used for inlays/onlays and crowns. Ceramics are tooth-colored, but more brittle than composite resin.

Checkups almost always include a complete cleaning, either from a dentist or a dental hygienist. Using special instruments, a dental hygienist will scrape below the gumline, removing built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. The dentist or hygienist may also polish and floss your teeth.

Structures of the palate have not properly closed, leaving an opening in the roof of the mouth. This can be inherited from one or both parents or caused by environmental issues during pregnancy, such as smoking, alcohol or drug use, consumption of prescription medications, virus exposure or nutritional deficiency.

Cold sores and fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This virus is passed from person to person by saliva (either directly or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by skin contact. Cold sores usually appear as clusters of tiny blisters on the lip. Most people are first infected with HSV-1 before they are 10 years old.

A mixture of plastic and fine glass particles used for fillings. This filling type is midrange in price, tooth-colored and fairly strong.

A connective tissue graft is recommended by the dentist when a person has gum recession (gums are lower on the tooth surface). The graft tissue is removed from the roof of the mouth and then placed onto the tooth or teeth that have gum recession and then stitched into place. This procedure is usually performed by a periodontist, a dental specialist who treats the gums and underlying bone of the teeth in the mouth.

This form of dentistry improves the appearance of teeth. This includes procedures like whitening, bonding and orthodontics.

Cracks that are too small to show up on X-rays. Sometimes the cracks are under the gum. The tooth may hurt sometimes when biting or chewing.

A crown is a tooth-shaped cover placed over a tooth that is badly damaged or decayed. A crown is made to look like the tooth. Many people call it a cap. A crown is also the name for the very top surface of a tooth.

These teeth near the front of the mouth are shaped like points (cusps) and are used for tearing food. They are also called canines.

A cyst is a thin, fluid-filled sac that can appear on the gum tissue, roof of the mouth or lips. A cyst may go away on its own or may have to be evaluated by a dentist or specialist to determine if it should be removed by surgery.

D

A synthetic resin used to restore or adhere teeth. These composites may include a mixture of plastic and glass fiber.

A cosmetic, metal and sometimes jeweled tooth covering developed in the 1980s by hip-hop artists. This removable accessory can cause damage to the teeth when not properly maintained or professionally crafted.

Dental implants are metal posts or frames that are surgically positioned into the jawbone beneath the gums. Once in place, they allow the dentist to mount replacement teeth onto them.

Dental sealants are plastic coatings that are usually placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth - the molars and premolars - to help protect them from decay.

The porous layer of the tooth that protects the nerve. When this layer is exposed it can cause tooth sensitivity.

Denture adhesives are used to secure the denture into place in the mouth to prevent it from slipping or moving. A variety of denture adhesives are available as pastes (cream/gel form), powders or wafers. Adhesives aren't always necessary for every denture wearer. Talk to your dentist to determine if denture adhesives are right for you.

Replacements for missing teeth that can be taken out and put back into the mouth. Available in full or partial sets, today's dentures look natural and feel comfortable.

A disorder that inhibits the body's ability to use blood sugar. Research shows that there is an increased prevalence of gum disease among diabetics.

A space or gap between two teeth. It appears most often between the two upper front teeth. However, gaps can occur between any two teeth.

An area of tooth decay that occurs on the back surface of your tooth away from the middle portion of the tooth surface. These types of cavities often occur on a part of a tooth that faces an adjacent “mesial” tooth surface. The terms “distal” and “mesial” denote the location of a cavity relative to the front of the jaw. “Distal” means toward to the back, and “mesial” means toward the front of the tooth.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is the condition of not having enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. Without enough saliva, tooth decay or other infections can develop in the mouth. You also might not get the nutrients you need if you cannot chew and swallow certain foods.

Painful exposed bone or nerve in the space where an extracted tooth used to reside. This occurs when a blood clot forms in the socket, then breaks down or is dislodged. A dentist should be contacted if you believe you have a dry socket.

E

These types of disorders can cause serious challenges to a person’s everyday diet (overeating or not eating enough food) and are most common in teenagers and young adults. Anorexia (extreme thinness) and bulimia (frequent occurrences of eating large amounts of food and then regurgitating) are the two most common eating disorders. They can cause serious tooth erosion of the enamel (outside layer of the tooth) and dentin (second layer of the tooth) and dental cavities in the mouth. Frequent vomiting causes stomach acid to cover the teeth and wear the enamel and possibly the dentin away. Additionally, high intake of carbohydrates can lead to tooth decay. Studies report that individuals with these eating disorders also have poor oral hygiene and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).

Tooth enamel is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance of the body, and is one of the four major tissues that make up the tooth. It is the normally visible dental tissue of a tooth and is supported by the underlying dentin.

The branch of dentistry that deals with diseases of the tooth's pulp. A dentist specializing in endodontics performs surgeries such as root canals.

Wearing away of the enamel due to a chemical acid process. This acid could be gastric or from diet.

Changes in hormone levels can cause oral health problems for women. During puberty, gums can become more sensitive. During menstruation, some of the same symptoms can occur in addition to the development of canker sores. During pregnancy, the increased level of progesterone can cause pregnancy gingivitis. Finally, during menopause, women may experience an alteration in taste, burning sensation, decreased saliva flow and sensitivity to cold or hot beverages or foods.

Research shows that after menopause, women are affected by a decrease in estrogen in their bodies, making them susceptible to periodontal disease and possibly osteoporosis. Research studies have shown that estrogen supplementation will help them prevent tooth loss. Additional research suggests a link between osteoporosis and loss of bone in the jaw. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than women who do not have osteoporosis.

F

Facial cavities are areas of tooth decay that face the cheeks and/or lips in your mouth. The term “facial” denotes the location of the cavity on the tooth surface where the front of the tooth is adjacent to the back or “distal” of another tooth.

Cold sores and fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This virus is passed from person to person by saliva (either directly or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by skin contact. Cold sores usually appear as clusters of tiny blisters on the lip. Most people are first infected with HSV-1 before they are 10 years old.

A way to restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape. When a dentist gives you a filling, he or she first removes the decayed tooth material, cleans the affected area, and then fills the cleaned out cavity with a filling material.

Flavonoids are antioxidants that help to slow the progression of oxidation and protect the cell membrane from free radicals that promote cancer and can damage cells. Flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory benefits too. People who are deficient in this also experience more frequent bruising.

A flipper denture is the least expensive type of temporary denture that usually replaces one or more front teeth. Flipper dentures are only used until a permanent denture (usually a bridge or sometimes a dental implant) is made and is ready to be inserted.

Using a special thread-like material to remove plaque and food particles in places where a toothbrush cannot easily reach — under the gumline and between your teeth. Because plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, daily flossing is highly recommended.

A natural mineral found in water and Earth's crust. Helps prevent cavities by hardening the enamel.

White or brown spots on the enamel caused by consuming too much fluoride while teeth are forming. Fluorosis does not develop after teeth have erupted and is a purely cosmetic condition.

Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin is usually seen in green leafy vegetables, peas, nuts and fruits. It is a necessary vitamin to help in the formation of healthy cells in the body. Research suggests that folic acid is associated with less bleeding in people with gingivitis. Many people in the U.S. already receive some folic acid in their diets because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires folic acid to be added to grain products and is seen in multivitamin products.

Tooth fractures can involve the tooth itself (enamel and dentin are affected) or the root where a fracture has occurred. In a tooth fracture, a composite filling or a crown may be needed to resolve the problem. Less serious fractures are small cracks in the enamel and may not result in pain or sensitivity, but they may become larger. In the case of a root fracture, the root may become loose, the pulp may be affected and the root may need to be extracted. See a dentist immediately for an oral evaluation.

G

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic digestive disease that can erode the teeth and irritate the lining of the esophagus. Many people refer to it as acid reflux. During acid reflux episodes, small amounts of stomach acid travel into your mouth and can damage the enamel (outer layer of the tooth) as well as the dentin (layer of tooth under the enamel).

Gingival hyperplasia is a condition in which the gum tissue may become overgrown in the mouth. It is usually caused by drug-induced medication. People who have a history of seizures and are taking certain medication(s) may have side effects of gingival hyperplasia.

Inflamed gum tissue caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Mild gingivitis causes little or no pain. You might not notice it. If left unchecked, however, it can become severe. In some people, gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss.

Gingivoplasty is a surgical procedure conducted by a periodontist to reconture the gum tissue to normal size and function. It is usually recommended for people who have teeth that are too small or too wide or who have a “gummy smile.” This type of gum surgery is used to reshape gum tissue around the teeth to make them look better from an esthetic perspective.

An acrylic and glass component used to cement inlays or as filling material. Glass ionomer matches the color of teeth but is weaker than composite resin fillings.

Used for small fillings in areas where you don’t chew hard. Sometimes used for repairing crowns. Gold foil requires great skill to place and does not match teeth, so it is quickly moving out of popularity.

An inflammation of the gum tissue that could affect the teeth and supporting bone. Plaque bacteria, acids and certain foods contribute to the development of gum disease.

Gum recession results from periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease when loss of supporting bone results in bacterial infection. The gum tissue pulls away from the teeth and may expose the roots below. This often leads to increased sensitivity to the tooth and damage of the newly exposed roots. Gum recession can also be caused by brushing the gum tissue too hard.

Where the tooth and the gums meet. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque and tartar can build up at the gumline, leading to gingivitis and gum disease.

Gums are the soft tissue lining that surrounds the teeth and covers the upper and lower jaw bones in the mouth. When healthy, the gum tissue is usually pink. When inflammation occurs, the tissue may become red and inflamed and bleed.

H

The professional term for bad breath. Can be caused by poor dental hygiene, infection, diet, dry mouth or illness.

Changes in hormone levels can cause oral health issues of the gum tissue when plaque biofilm is present in the mouth. During menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, oral health will be affected by hormonal fluctuation. To lower your risk of gum disease and other complications during these instances, practice good oral hygiene (toothbrushing and flossing) and schedule regular dental visits to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy.

A licensed dental professional, trained to clean teeth, take x-rays and perform other services.

Hyperglycemia is known as high blood sugar and occurs when the body has too little insulin or doesn’t use enough insulin. The symptoms of hyperglycemia are high blood glucose levels, high levels of sugar in the urine, frequent urination, dry mouth and an increase in thirst. It is important to see your physician to have a complete blood workup to assist in determining treatment. Hyperglycemia also affects the oral cavity by causing an increase in the risk of infections.

Painful tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet and acidic foods and drinks. Typically caused by exposed root areas of the tooth.

I

Teeth that fail to emerge through the gums, or emerge only partially, at the expected time. This usually occurs with wisdom teeth between 17 and 21 years old.

An impacted wisdom tooth (third molar) occurs when there is not enough room for the tooth to erupt in the mouth. Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt in adults age 17-21. An impacted wisdom tooth can lead to complications — more specifically, pain and damage to the surrounding teeth — if left untreated. The dentist will recommend that you see an oral surgeon to evaluate the X-rays and area in the mouth.

A form of the teeth typically used to create orthodontic appliances. The laboratory uses a soft material that sets into a gel to make a copy of the teeth, which is sent back to the dentist.

The sharp, chisel-shaped front teeth (four upper, four lower) used for cutting food.

Babies suffer from sore gums during the teething process that begins at 6 months of age. The signs of teething include drooling, irritability, and sore and tender gums. You can ease the pain and discomfort by massaging your baby’s gums gently with a moistened gauze pad or a damp washcloth. The baby can nibble on a chilled rubber teething ring for relief.

Invisalign braces are a new, innovative way to straighten teeth without the silver brackets and bands. They are clear aligner trays that are worn in the mouth. These aligners are placed over the teeth and can be worn during the day and night. They correct orthodontic problems by moving the teeth into correct alignment.

L

Dental lasers are used for a variety of gum disease treatments. Patients can have their gum tissue restored to health without incisions, stitches or traditional gum surgery. Lasers can help to reduce pocket depth, can lengthen a tooth or crown and help to reshape the gum tissue, and can be used for frenectomies to eliminate speech impediments.

A local anesthetic agent that is used to numb the gum tissue before a dental procedure (composite filling, gum surgery). Lidocaine can help prevent pain that may occur during the dental procedure. It usually wears off about two or three hours after surgery.

Tooth decay that will occur on the inside surface of the tooth facing the tongue. Lingual is the position or location of where the tooth decay is occurring. Many people who do not effectively brush their teeth along the gumline may have issues of decalcification or decay of the enamel that may occur.

M

The medical term for the lower jaw that connects to the temporal bone at the side of the head.

Menopause is a normal condition that occurs in women over the age of 40 in the aging process. Menopause affects the body in a number of ways as well as the oral cavity. Menopausal women may experience an alteration in taste, burning sensation, decreased saliva flow and sensitivity to cold or hot beverages or foods. Menopausal women may develop osteoporosis (loss of bone density) and the relationship between bone loss and a woman's risk for periodontal disease is being studied.

Mesial cavities are tooth decay forming on the surface of teeth closest to the middle of the front of the jaw. These types of cavities often occur on a part of a tooth that faces an adjacent distal tooth surface.

Rear teeth used for grinding. These teeth have several cusps on the biting surface.

The idea that what goes on in the mouth can affect the health of the body. An immune system weakened by disease can affect the health of the mouth, for example.

An appliance placed around the teeth like a tray to protect the teeth, jaw, lips and tongue. It may also reduce the rate and severity of concussions.

There are many types of over-the-counter and prescription mouth rinses that are available on the market. These types of mouth rinses may contain fluoride to fight tooth decay, antibacterial ingredients to fight plaque and gingivitis, and other ingredients that can reduce tartar formation or whiten the teeth. Check for the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which the American Dental Association provides to mouth rinses that have been clinically tested and shown to be safe and effective.

N

Baby teeth. Teething usually begins between 6 months and 1 year of age when the eruption of the first teeth occur. The natal teeth are also called the primary teeth and a child will have 20 baby teeth. The last baby teeth will erupt by age 3.

An element of the tooth pulp that senses pain. The nerve is in the center of the tooth and can be exposed when the enamel is weakened.

A Nesbit denture is a type of denture used to replace missing teeth in the back of the mouth. Nesbit dentures use metal clasps to attach to nearby healthy natural teeth. Many dentists do not recommend Nesbit dentures because they put a lot of pressure on the surrounding teeth and are more likely than other types of dentures to become dislodged.

A plastic bit piece used at night to prevent tooth grinding. A dentist can custom-make a guard if you experience grinding problems.

Nitrous oxide is a colorless, sweet-smelling anesthetic gas that is inhaled in combination with oxygen to help relax anxious dental patients. Nitrous oxide is referred to a conscious sedation. Dental patients may experience a tingling in the arms or legs but will feel calm and relaxed during a dental procedure. Patients will not go to sleep, but will be able to hear and respond to any dental professional requests or questions during their dental procedure.

O

The human mouth contains many different types of oral bacteria, both good and bad organisms. Some bacteria in the mouth perform important functions that help keep your mouth healthy. Unfortunately, some bacteria can also damage teeth. Two strains of bacteria found in the mouth are particularly destructive: Streptococcus mutans and lactobacilli. When these and other types of bacteria are allowed to flourish, they produce acid that causes tooth decay. Other oral bacteria that cause periodontal disease are actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, prophyromonas gingivalis, and bacteriodes forsythus. It is very important to brush and floss teeth daily to prevent damage to teeth and gum tissue caused by oral bacteria that develop in the mouth.

A form of cancer usually found on the inside of the mouth. This cancer is characterized by sores that will not heal and sometimes bleed.

Daily oral care for the health of the mouth and teeth. Good oral hygiene includes brushing, flossing, eating healthy foods and regular trips to the dentist.

A form of self-expression characterized by the piercing of tongue, lips or cheeks with jewelry. These piercings carry risks beyond normal ear piercing.

Orthodontics is a specialty field of dentistry that diagnoses, prevents and treats irregularities of the teeth and face, including the position of teeth and jaws. Orthodontic care involves the use of appliances.

A dentist specializing in the field of orthodontics who treats irregularities in the teeth and face. An orthodontist will diagnose and create appliances for the teeth to correct these irregularities.

A condition, sometimes called "buck teeth," in which the upper front teeth lie too far forward (stick out) over the lower teeth. This can be corrected by an orthodontist.

P

Partial dentures are worn by people who have lost one or more teeth in an area in the mouth. The replacement teeth are attached to a metal framework covered by a plastic pink base colored to look like the gum tissue. Partial dentures usually attach to existing natural teeth with metal or plastic clasps.

Pericoronitis is inflammation and swelling of gum tissue around erupting wisdom teeth causing inflammation, swelling and pain. It is important to rinse the teeth with warm saline rinses, and an antibiotic can be recommended for this condition.

Ranges from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth.

The soft and hard tissues that surround and support the teeth in the jawbone. They include the gums (gingiva) that cover the bone of the jaw and support the tooth structure inside the alveolar bone, the periodontal ligament (fibers that keep the teeth attached to the jaw), and the bone (alveolar) to which the teeth are in place, nourished and protected.

Untreated gingivitis. A serious infection characterized by swollen, tender gums. Periodontitis destroys tissue and bone. This disease could eventually lead to tooth loss.

Tongue, lip and mouth piercings can cause a number of oral health problems. These piercings can fracture the tooth structure and cause the gums to recede. Infections may be common after the initial piercing and cause swelling, bleeding and pain. Piercings also encourage the buildup of plaque bacteria, leading to gingivitis.

Pit and fissure cavities are tooth decay that forms in the narrow grooves, pits and fissures of the premolar and molar teeth on the biting surfaces. Because of the way these teeth are shaped, it is often difficult to clean their narrow grooves thoroughly, and bacteria often collect in these areas. Thorough toothbrushing should be conducted carefully to remove food debris and bacterial plaque formation.

Invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth. Plaque can lead to gum disease and destroy gum tissue and teeth.

Dental professionals define “pocket depth” as the crevice or space between the gums and teeth. Normal healthy gums usually have a pocket depth of 1 to 3 millimeters as measured by a dental professional using a periodontal probe. Gum tissue that is inflamed or swollen may be 4 millimeters or more and prone to periodontal disease.

A filling material that can be matched to the color of the tooth and resists staining. Porcelain fillings are priced nearly the same as gold.

A tooth-shaped cover placed over a tooth that is badly damaged or decayed. Porcelain crowns are made before placement in a laboratory and matched to the appearance of your teeth.

Also referred to as bicuspids, these teeth have two points and are used for crushing and tearing. Premolars are located directly ahead of the molars.

The soft tissue in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain.

Pulpitis is inflammation or infection of the pulp (nerve), which is the inner structure of the tooth containing the nerves and blood vessels. Pulpitis can range from mild to severe. You may experience pain from the pulp or in other areas of the face and mouth.

R

A type of implant used if the lower jawbone is too thin for other implants. This type of implant leaves a visible, thin metal bar around the top of the gum.

Regaining the minerals lost inside the enamel crystals through fluoride. These minerals are lost through bacteria feeding on the sugars in the mouth and creating acids.

A removable appliance worn to maintain tooth positions after treatment is completed and braces are removed. Once the bite has been corrected, bone and gums need more time to stabilize around the teeth.

The part of the tooth that is embedded in bone. The root makes up about two-thirds of the tooth that holds the tooth in place.

A treatment to remove damaged or diseased tooth pulp. Once removed, the remaining space is cleaned and the tooth is sealed off.

A titanium device surgically implanted into the jawbone to replace the roots of missing teeth. These implants support crowns, bridges and dentures.

Smoothing the tooth's root surfaces to make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate. This typically follows scaling to treat periodontal disease.

S

Also called spit, this substance helps in digestion, protects teeth and prevents infection. Saliva also makes it possible to chew and swallow food.

A technique for removing plaque, biofilm and tartar from teeth and below the gumline. This can help reverse the effects of gum disease.

Plastic coatings that are usually placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth — the molars and premolars — to help protect them from decay.

Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands in the body. It is most readily seen in women and causes dry eyes, dry mouth and swollen salivary glands, and people can suffer from joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

The two main types of smokeless tobacco are chewing tobacco (loose leaf, plug or twist) and snuff (finely ground tobacco that can be dry, moist or packaged). Studies have shown that chewing tobacco, or smokeless tobacco, can lead to gum recession, gum disease and tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco can also cause leukoplakia, a precancerous lesion of the soft tissue of the mouth. (It looks like a white patch on the inside cheek and cannot be scraped off).

This is tooth decay that appears on smooth flat surfaces of teeth. As bacteria start to wear away the enamel, white-spot lesions occur and the tooth is prone to decay.

The American Dental Association refers to soft drinks as drinks containing sugar and/or carbonation and acidic products. These include soda, juice drinks and sports drinks. Drinking soda increases the risk of tooth decay and has been linked to obesity. Milk, fruit juices and water are healthy alternatives.

An appliance used when a baby tooth is lost too early. This device helps make room for the permanent tooth to enter.

Acid from the stomach may be released and go up through the esophagus and into the mouth, which is known as acid reflux. Stomach acid can dissolve the enamel of the teeth. People who experience this may suffer from loss of tooth enamel due to these acids covering the tooth surfaces, dry mouth and tooth decay.

T

Plaque that has hardened on the teeth. Tartar can form at and underneath the gumline and damage the teeth and gums.

The period of time when a baby's primary teeth erupt. During the first few years of life, all 20 teeth will erupt through the gums, which can cause irritability and discomfort.

Temporary crowns are made of acrylic or stainless steel and perform the functions of your natural tooth while a permanent crown is being made. Temporary crowns can be made by the dentist and the permanent crowns the dentist will send to a dental laboratory to manufacture.

A dentist will place a temporary filling in place after tooth decay has been removed from a tooth. The type of filling material that is used may be a synthetic composite resin, amalgam or gold.

A disorder in which the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw isn't working properly. This can cause headaches, clicking sounds, pain and locked jaw.

Thrush is a fungal infection that appears as red or white patches that develop in the mouth. Thrush usually occurs on the tongue and inner side of the cheeks, but may spread to the roof of the mouth, gums, tonsils or even the back of the throat. Symptoms include white lesions that resemble cottage cheese, loss of taste, bleeding if the lesion is scraped or rubbed, and pain and cracking at the corners of the mouth.

Thumb-sucking is a normal habit for toddlers and children. They may suck on their thumbs, fingers and pacifiers. Thumb-sucking may cause problems in the growth and alignment of the teeth. More aggressive thumb-suckers may have issues occur with their baby teeth. Parents should consult with their dental professional to determine steps to wean their child off of thumb-sucking during the ages 2 to 4. Future orthodontic treatment may be necessary for children who thumb-suck.

A disorder in which the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw isn't working properly. This can cause headaches, clicking sounds, pain and locked jaw.

While a toothbrush can be used, tongue scrapers are much more effective to literally scrape away plaque, food debris and bacteria from the tongue. Colgate has developed a tongue cleaner on the back of its Colgate® 360°® toothbrush to help the public and dental professionals to effectively clean their tongue and help to provide a whole mouth clean.

A small calcified structure found in the jaw used to crush and tear food so that it can be swallowed.

Tooth avulsion occurs when a tooth has been traumatically displaced from its normal position in the mouth due to a blow to the mouth or a dental injury. It is also referred to as tooth luxation. When avulsion occurs, it is very important to consult a dentist to determine if the tooth (primary or permanent) should be put back into place so that the periodontal ligament (fibers that attach to the tooth to support it in place) can reattach to the tooth. An avulsed tooth results in necrosis (dying) of the pulp tissue in the tooth.

Acid erosion of the tooth enamel, causing demineralization that can move into the pulp of the tooth if not treated with fluoride or a filling.

When stains on the surface or changes in the tooth material change the color of the tooth. These include extrinsic, intrinsic and age-related discoloration.

The removal of a broken or decayed tooth from the socket in the bone. When too much damage prevents repair, the tooth must be removed.

Tooth mobility means that the tooth may be loose. The loose tooth or teeth could move from side to side in the socket (horizontal) or up and down (vertical). Loose teeth can be caused by gum disease and can make chewing food difficult. In some cases, a dentist or dental specialist may determine that the loose teeth need to be extracted.

When hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods, drinks or air make teeth sensitive to pain. Sensitivity is usually caused by exposed dentin due to receded gums or periodontal disease.

A process for lightening teeth and removing stains and discoloration. Whitening must be maintained over time.

A transillumination test is a test conducted on teeth that do not have a pulp (nerves and blood vessels). The use of transmitted light shows the root when the pulp is necrotic or has been replaced by a filling.

A dated form of implant originally used in people with little lower jawbone. It is rarely used today because extensive surgery is required.

U

A "bulldog" appearance where the lower teeth are too far forward or the upper teeth are too far back.

V

Thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of the teeth to improve appearance. These can be used to fix chipped, stained, misaligned, worn-down or abnormally spaced teeth.

B vitamins are essential for energy production, fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, nerve and brain health, and the prevention of anxiety and depression. Deficiency of B vitamins can cause a burning sensation in the mouth, a swollen or cracking tongue and trouble swallowing.

Vitamin C helps to form and maintain bones, blood vessels, skin, tendons and ligaments. It is necessary for wound healing, repair of cartilage, and teeth and gingival health. Deficiency of Vitamin C has been shown to slow the healing process and cause bleeding of the gum tissue. It is vital to have the adequate doses of vitamin C. Please consult a nutritionist or your physician.

Vitamin D is important for bone health, but it also improves a variety of illnesses such as inflammation, multiple sclerosis, seasonal disorders and depression. Epidemiological studies have shown that a low level of vitamin D increases the risk of osteoporosis, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, some common cancers, Crohn's disease, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. People can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight several times per week, diet (inclusion of milk, eggs, fish liver oil) and vitamin supplements.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health, and that includes teeth. Tooth enamel needs calcium to stay strong. The stronger your tooth enamel is, the less likely you are to develop a dental cavity. Other vitamins, such as vitamin D, may also help promote tooth health. Ask your dentist about a balanced diet and what vitamins or supplements you could take.

W

Whitening gels are clear, hydrogen peroxide-based gels that are applied to the surface of teeth to bleach or whiten them. The gels can be applied by pen application, strips or in trays at home over a one- to two-week period for an adequate whitening result.

Whitening toothpastes contain mild abrasives for effective stain removal and hydrogen peroxide for enhanced whitening. Colgate® offers Colgate® Optic White™ for those who want a whitening toothpaste that provides cavity protection and fresh breath while reducing plaque with regular toothbrushing.

The final molars to emerge at the back of the jaw, sometimes with little space left to emerge. This can cause tenderness, swelling, pain and disease. Many people choose to have these teeth removed.

X

A type of energy that passes through soft tissues and is absorbed by dense tissue. Often used by dentists to see the teeth and roots in the jaw.

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