Dental Glossary

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


  • Abscess

    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.

  • Acid Reflux

    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.

  • Acidic Foods

    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.

  • Acrylic Resin

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

  • ADA Seal of Approval

    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.

  • Advanced Periodontitis

    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.

  • Amalgam

    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.

  • Anesthesia

    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

    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.

  • Automatic Flosser

    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.

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  • Eating Disorders

    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).

  • Enamel

    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.

  • Endodontics

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

  • Erosion

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

  • Estrogen levels

    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.

  • Estrogen Replacement

    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.

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  • Facial Cavities

    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.

  • Fever Blister

    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.

  • Fillings

    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

    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.

  • Flipper Denture

    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.

  • Flossing

    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.

  • Fluoride

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

  • Fluorosis

    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

    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.

  • Fractures

    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.

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  • GERD

    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

    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.

  • Gingivitis

    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

    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.

  • Glass Lonomer

    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.

  • Gold Foil

    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.

  • Gum Disease

    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

    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.

  • Gumline

    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

    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.

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  • Halitosis

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

  • Hormone Levels

    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.

  • Hygienist

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

  • Hyperglycemia

    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.

  • Hypersensitivity

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

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  • Laser Gum Surgery

    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.

  • Lidocaine

    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.

  • Lingual Cavities

    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.

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  • Mandible

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

  • Menopause

    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

    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.

  • Molars

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

  • Mouth-Body Connection

    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.

  • Mouth Guards

    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.

  • Mouthwash

    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.

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  • Natal Teeth

    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.

  • Nerve

    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.

  • Nesbit Denture

    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.

  • Night Guard

    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

    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.

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  • Veneers

    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.

  • Vitamin B

    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

    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

    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

    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.

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