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Dental Glossary

Dr. Shannon Norman-Kotre Ann Arbor Dentist -- Dental Glossary


Amalgam - An alloy of mercury with another metal, typically silver, used to fill cavities in teeth

Anesthesia - There are several types of anesthesia, including local anesthesia (such as a numbing injection) or general anesthesia, which involves putting an individual in a state of unconsciousness.

Anterior teeth - The six upper and six lower front teeth.  Also called incisors and cuspids.

Arch - The curved structure formed by the teeth in their normal position.


Baby bottle tooth decay - Caused by prolonged contact with sugary substances, generally juice, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby's mouth.

Bicuspids - Also known as premolars, they are back teeth used for chewing.

Bitewings - X-rays that help a dentist diagnose cavities by looking at the crowns of the posterior (back) teeth.

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

Bridge - A fixed or removable appliance that replaces lost teeth.

Bruxism - Involuntary teeth grinding or clenching, which tends to happen most often during sleep.  Bite splints are often used to alleviate issues caused from bruxism, such as TM


Calculus - Hardened dental plaque (also called tartar).

Canal - The narrow chamber inside the tooth's root through which nerves and blood vessels enter the pulp cavity.

Canines - Pointed teeth, also called cuspids.

Canker sore - An oral ulceration.  Canker sores generally resolve without treatment within 14 days.

Caries - Another term for tooth decay or dental cavities.

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, and it is usually painful and filled with fluid. 

Composite filling - Tooth-colored dental restorations; also called resin fillings.

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

Contouring - The process of reshaping teeth, generally in order to make them straighter.

Crown - An artificial cap that is placed on the top of a tooth following dental restoration.

Cusps - The pointed parts on top of the back teeth's chewing surface.

Cuspids - Front teeth that typically have a pointed edge; also called canine teeth.


Dentin - The tooth layer underneath the enamel, and one of the four major components of teeth.

Denture - Removable dental appliances that replace natural teeth.


Endodontics - A form of dentistry that addresses diseases of the dental pulp. 


Fluoride - A naturally occurring chemical compound often added to water, toothpastes, and some rinses and used for strengthening the tooth's enamel in order to help prevent cavities. 


Gingiva - Another word for gum tissue.

Gingivitis - Early-stage inflammation of the gums caused by plaque.

Gum disease - A broad term covering several different stages of gum inflammation. Also called periodontal disease.


Halitosis -  Bad breath, caused by tooth decay, gum disease, digestive problems, smoking or some systemic diseases.


Impacted teeth - Teeth that are prevented from proper eruption into the mouth due to poor structural positioning. Impaction makes these teeth more likely to become diseased or increase the chance of disease to adjacent teeth.

Implant - A permanent appliance used to replace a natural 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, generally used to fill cavities.


Laminate veneer - A thin shell that is bonded to the enamel of a front tooth in order to strengthen it or improve its appearance. 


Malocclusion - Misalignment of teeth and/or incorrect relation between the teeth of the two dental arches.

Mandible - The lower jaw.

Maxilla - The upper jaw.

Molar - Usually the largest teeth, near the rear of the mouth. Molars are used to grind food when chewing. 


Neuromuscular Dentistry - A type of dentistry that focuses on correcting misalignments of the jaw in order to prevent other dental issues. 


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

Orthodontics - A specialty branch of dentistry that deals specifically with the prevention or correction of teeth irregularities.

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


Palate - Roof of the mouth.

Partial denture - A removable appliance that replaces teeth. Also called a bridge. 

Pedodontics - A field of dentistry that deals specifically with children's teeth.  Sometimes also referred to as pediatric dentistry.

Periodontal pocket - An opening formed by receding gums that is susceptible to infection.  Also called a gingival pocket.

Periodontal disease - Infection and inflammation 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 during periods between brushing.  When hardened, it becomes known as tarter.

Posterior teeth - The bicuspids and molars.  Also called back teeth.

Primary teeth - A person's first set of teeth.  Also called baby teeth or temporary teeth.

Prophylaxis - The removal of dental plaque and tarter in order to prevent disease.

Prosthodontics - The field of dentistry that deals with restoration and replacement of natural teeth.

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


Receding gums - Exposure of tooth roots which can be caused by many different factors, including abnormal tooth position, periodontal disease, overbrushing, grinding, or chewing tobacco.

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 from food and bacteria that may eventually cause cavities. 


TMJ - Temporomandibular joint disorder. Health problems, including pain, popping, and clicking, related to the jaw joint just in front of the ear. Symptoms can often be alleviated by the use of bite splints.

Tarter - A hardened substance, generally plaque, that sticks to the tooth's surface and must be removed by a dental professional to avoid the development of periodontal disease. 


Veneer - A thin layer of restorative material placed over a tooth surface, either to improve the appearance of the tooth, or to protect a damaged tooth surface. There are two main types of material used to fabricate a veneer: composite, and dental porcelain.


Whitening - Removal of stains that collect over time on tooth surfaces over time, generally done by bleaching.

Wisdom tooth - Third and final set of molars that erupt in late adolescence or early adulthood.


Dental X-Rays -- Dental radiographs are used to find hidden dental structures, malignant or benign masses, bone loss, and cavities.

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