Glossary of Dental Terms
Abscess An infection of the jaw bone due to either
dead pulp in the tooth or a periodontal pocket around the tooth.
An anchor or support tooth on either side of the space where a tooth
Acid Etch Used when preparing a tooth for a tooth colored
filling, a mild acid solution is placed on the tooth surface to make
the surface rough (etched), the solution is then removed, the tooth
is dried. The etching allows the tooth-colored filling materials to
adhere to the tooth surface.
Alloy The combinations of precious and semiprecious materials
(e.g. silver, mercury, gold, copper, tin, zinc, chromium, and
nickel) that are used in tooth restorations (e.g. inlays, onlays and
Alveolar Bone Teeth in the jaw are supported by the alveolar
Amalgam A common type of dental restoration, "silver
filling." The material contains alloys of mercury, silver, tin,
copper and sometimes zinc.
American Dental Association (ADA) With headquarters in
Chicago, Illinois, the ADA is the national organization for
organized dentistry. ADA is responsible for state and local dental
societies about policies of national and state interest.
American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance The only
labeling which assures the American consumer of a dental product's
effectiveness and safety, and provides assurance that the
manufacturer's claims are accurate.
Analgesic Aspirin and Tylenol are common types of analgesics
that help to create an absence of the sensation of pain.
Anesthesia The numbing effect, or loss of all sensation in an
area, due to action by a drug. Carbocaine and Xylocaine are common
Anterior Means front. (opposite: posterior = back)
Antibiotic Antibiotic medications are given to help the
body's natural defenses in fighting an infection. Penicillin and
erythromycin are examples.
Apex The very end, or tip of the root of a tooth.
Appliance A term used in dentistry which translates to be any
dental device that serves with purposeful intent. Dentures,
orthodontia, palate expanders, arch appliances, etc.
Arch The bony elevation from which the teeth erupt in the
lower and upper jaw; a dental ridge.
Baby Bottle Syndrome Severe decay in the teeth of young
children caused by frequent, repeated exposure to liquids containing
sugars (foe example: milk, baby formula, juices, etc.)
Baby Teeth See primary dentition.
Benign Tumor A non-invasive, non-malignant growth that may go
away by itself or that may have to be removed.
Benzocaine A topical anesthetic used to numb site prior to
Bitewing A small x ray film that shows the dentist the crowns
of the teeth taken to check for decay between teeth.
Bleaching Also called teeth whitening. Techniques which
create whiter teeth at home or in the dental office.
Board-certified specialist A dental specialist who has earned
the diploma for his/her dental specialty from the American board.
Board-eligible specialist A dental specialist who has
graduated from an advanced ADA-approved training program, but who is
not a diploma holder of his specialty board.
Bonding A special technique that involves the removal of a
small amount of the tooth's exterior structure (enamel) and placing
(bonding) a very thin covering over the area that was removed to
repair, protect, and/or return a tooth to its natural color, or to a
more desired shape.
Bony impaction The tooth is not in the proper position and
Bridge A common fixed-appliance that serves to replace a
missing tooth or teeth. It is cemented into position. A crown or
crowns anchor the bridge, while the replacement tooth is called the
Bruxism Teeth grinding to release tension. If severe and
causes tooth wear or jaw related problems, suffers should consult a
dentist or a dental specialist to aid in correcting the bruxism
Buccal The surface of the tooth which is in contact with the
cheek. The opposite side is the lingual side or tongue side.
Calculus The rough, hard, stony deposit that accumulates on
the teeth when plaque is not removed and the teeth are not properly
Canker Sores Canker sores or recurrent aphthous ulcers are
painful sores that can occur singly or in clusters in the mouth for
a duration of a about 10 to 14 days.
Cantilever Bridge A fixed bridge in which the replacement
tooth (pontic) is the end member.
Capitation A method of insurance reimbursement in dental
benefit plans which requires that the dentist provides all necessary
covered services to eligible plan members for a fixed capita monthly
payment, usually paid regardless of the services rendered. The
financial risk is assumed by the dentist in these plans.
Carcinoma A most serious type of oral cancer.
Caries Cavities in the teeth. The beginning stage of tooth
decay is when acid creates a hole in the tooth.
Carrier Another name for dental insurance company offering
dental insurance coverage to eligible members within the plan.
Cementum A covering that surrounds the root end of the tooth
to protect it
Clasp The arm of a partial denture. Usually attaches to the
abutment tooth to gain stability and retention of a removable
prosthetic device. Cleft Lip A birth defect that causes the lip to
split. Also called a harelip.
Cleft Palate A birth defect in which there is a direct
opening between the floor of the nose and the roof of the mouth.
Closed Panel A dental insurance benefit plan which requires
the patients to receive their dental care from a specific dentist
who has contractually agreed to the terms payments and benefits of
the plan. Usually only a limited number of dentists in an area are
allowed to participate in these types of plans.
COBRA Plan Insurance coverage that is offered to an insured
person when employment terminates. Benefits are usually more limited
and more expensive and are for a limited duration.
Cold Sores See herpes simplex
Composite Resin Commonly used tooth colored filling material
composed of glass, fillers and resin used to restore teeth.
Congenital Present from or existing from birth
Contact The point where two adjacent or opposing teeth meet
Contract Dentist Organization Dentists contracting to provide
services as discounted rates in exchange for access to a given
patient population. Also known as a PPO (preferred provider
Conventional Braces Orthodontic appliances that have metal
brackets that show on the outer surfaces of the teeth.
Cusp The small dull points that are on the top of the crown
of the tooth
Cyst A sack-like structure in the skin filled with diseased
Decalcification Removal of the hardness, breaking down of a
Dental Fluorosis This condition happens when teeth are
permanently stained within the tooth structure due to excessive
ingestion of fluoride.
Dental Hygienist Licensed dental auxiliary who clean teeth,
take x ray films, promote and teach oral hygiene care to dental
patients in a dentist's office setting
Dentin Bone-like substance found beneath the hard enamel of
the tooth. It is softer than enamel
Dentition A set of teeth, upper teeth and lower teeth
Direct Reimbursement Plans A type of benefit plan whereby the
employer pays dental fees incurred by the employees. Levels of
benefit coverage are based on the amount of dental expenditure that
a plan allows in a year instead of categories of treatment. No
insurance company is involved in the plan.
Disclosing Tablets Chewable tablets or solution used to aid
the detection of plaque on the tooth surface
Distal The surface of the tooth that is the farthest from the
middle or mid-line. Opposite the mesial.
Dry Socket When an extraction site fails to heal properly.
Usually is very uncomfortable for the patient.
Enamel The hard covering of the tooth crown, the part above
the gum line. It is the hardest tissue/substance found in the body
Endodontic Implants Utilizing an existing tooth by placing a
metal post down into one of the root canals of the tooth and
extending into the bone.
Endodontics A dental specialty concerned with the diagnosis,
treatment, causes and prevention of diseases of the dental pulp and
the tissues at the root tip. The specialist is called an
Endodontic Therapy See root canal therapy.
Epinephrine Used with many anesthetic solutions, epinephrine
is a vasoconstrictor that restricts bleeding during surgery and
maintains the anesthetic at the site. It should be used with caution
when treating patients with heart disease.
Erosion Teeth can erode or wear away due to a chemical
Exclusions Care/procedures/services not covered under dental
Exfoliation Loosing the baby teeth, so the secondary teeth
have a place to go
Explanation of Benefits Or EOB. A form generated by the
insurance carrier explaining the justification for payment of the
claim and/or denial of coverage. The EOB is sent to the subscriber
and the providing dentist.
Extraction The removal of a tooth by a dentist.
Extraoral On the outside of the mouth
Extrinsic Staining Staining and discoloration on the enamel
surface of the tooth
Facial The surface of the tooth that lies inside against the
cheek. Is usually used for front surfaces of the front (anterior)
Fee for Service Reimbursement In dental insurance plan
whereby the benefits are paid to the patient or he dentist according
to the services provided. Fees paid out usually have UCR (usual and
customary rate) limitations, table of allowances, scheduled fees for
specific services, or are paid on the basis of the dentist's usual,
Fever Blisters See herpes simplex
Fetus An unborn baby
File A very fine, tapered instrument used by a dentist to
clean out the pupal tissue remaining in the canal during a root
Filling The replacement material used to fill or restore a
tooth which has decayed.
Fixed Appliance An appliance that is cemented in place by the
dentist and cannot be removed by the patient.
Fluoride An element that is naturally occurring that serves
to strengthen enamel resulting in teeth that are much more resistant
Fluorosis Discoloration of the teeth due to excessive
fluoride in drinking water. Teeth look as if they have lacy white
lines (mottling). Most often occurs when the drinking water has
Full Denture Upper or lower denture that replaces all teeth
in a dental arch supported by the dental ridge.
Gingiva Gum tissue. The technical term for gums.
Gingivitis Inflammation of the gum tissue. This is the
beginning of periodontal disease.
HMO Health Maintenance Organization. The type of insurance
entity that contracts with subscribers and dependents to provide
dental services and care for a specifically defined period of time
at a fixed per capita rate, regardless of the services provided
Herpes Simplex Mouth sores that are viral lesions. Most often
occurring on the outside of the mouth and lips, but can sometimes be
found on the hard palate (roof of the mouth) and on the gum tissue.
Highly contagious, they are characterized by a feeling of fullness,
itching or burning before the blister-like sore develops.
Immediate Denture A denture which is placed immediately after
the teeth are extracted.
Impacted Tooth A tooth with an irregular placement that is
firmly lodged in the jaw bone and unable to erupt. Many impacted
teeth never erupt.
Implant The extension of a tooth root or the replacement of a
tooth by the surgical placement of a metal post into the upper or
lower dental ridge. The post served to support the tooth crown.
Impression When the dentist wants a replica or model of your
mouth or tooth , an impression is taken. Impressions are taken to
create the model. This method is used to give the dental laboratory
an exact model of the areas prepared for replacement teeth, a crown,
onlay or denture so that the item being made will fit exactly to the
patient's existing tissue or tooth structure.
Indemnity plan Also known as fee for service plan. In this
type of plan the insurance company agrees to provide dental care for
a specific group/population for an agreed upon period of time for an
actuarially established per capita premium. The financial risk is
assumed by the insurance carrier.
Infective Endocarditis (IE) A serious heart condition which
can occur when microorganisms enter the bloodstream and make their
way to the heart.
Inlay A restoration for a decayed tooth that usually contains
gold and alloys. Restores the tooth without covering up the cusps of
Intraoral Inside of the mouth
Intrinsic Staining Discoloration within the tooth which is
Juvenile Periodontitis Infection creating bone loss
surrounding the teeth in children
Laminated Veneers A technique for cosmetic improvement of
usually the front teeth. , this conservative method involves the
placement of a thin covering over discolored or broken teeth to
improve their appearance.
Lead Apron The lead lined drape that is placed over the
patient to protect them from exposure of radiation before x rays are
Lesion The technical name for any sore, either benign or
Leukoplakia A lesion of the soft tissues that is
characterized by a localized white patch of plaque. Is usually
caused by irritation from a denture, broken tooth, or tobacco use.
Lingual The surface of the tooth that is in contact with the
tongue (tongue side of the tooth), opposite of the buccal (cheek
side) of the tooth.
Malnutrition A condition which develops when the body I
deprived of a sufficient supply nutrients or the proper use of foods
minerals and vitamins
Malocclusion When teeth are positioned incorrectly
Managed Care Plan Dental insurance plans that control dental
benefit expenditures by reducing reimbursement levels, limiting
access to care, transferring risk to the dental providers, and
restricting the level, type and frequency of care.
Mandible The lower jaw bone. Mandibular.
Margin The contact point between any restorative material and
the tooth structure that abuts or lies under it. Margins in properly
executed are smooth, they do not have any rough areas or rough
Maxilla The upper jaw bone. Maxillary.
Maximum Benefit Insurance companies set a maximum amount that
they will pay out in benefits for each person covered under the
plan. (Plan maximum)
Mesial The surface of a tooth that is the closest to the
midline; opposite the buccal (cheek side) surface.
Nitrous Oxide/Oxygen Sedation A method of managing an anxious
patient's stress by allowing them to breathe the nitrous oxide gas
through an inhalation mask causing relaxation, drowsiness, euphoria,
slight amnesia and slight analgesia.
Nonvital Tooth A tooth which has had the pulp removed by root
Occlusion The relationship between the upper teeth and the
lower teeth when the mouth is closed
Occlusal The chewing surface of a tooth.
Onlay A gold and alloy restoration that is used to repair a
tooth by covering the cusps. The onlay usually protects the tooth
Open Bite This type of bite is one where the teeth do not
meet properly. This problem is usually treated by orthodontics.
Oral Candidiasis (thrush) See thrush.
Orthodontics The specialty in dentistry dedicated to the
correction of bite disorders or malocclusions
Osseous (Bone) Surgery Surgery that involves reshaping bone
in the mouth.
Osteomyelitis Infection around a tooth that involves the bone
supporting the tooth root.
Overbite Malocclusion involving a horizontal or vertical
overlap. This type of bite problem usually requires orthodontic
treatment to be successfully changed.
Overdenture A full-denture that is secured to the roots of
natural teeth which have undergone root canal therapy and have
Panograph Radiograph An x ray that images the lower portion
of the face for hidden pathology that is not seen easily by other
types of x ray film or methods. Sometimes called a pan or pan x.
Partial Denture A partial denture can be used for replacement
of teeth when a bridge is not suitable. The partial is removable,
has a metal framework, replacement teeth, clasps and rests. It is
supported by the teeth and also the tissues of the arch.
Pathology A pathology is a disease. Can be localized, such as
an infected tooth or tissue, or be more general as in a bodily
Pedodontics A specialty in dentistry for children dedicated
to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease in
Periapical Radiograph An intraoral x-ray that shows the root
tip or apex of the tooth and the area surrounding it
Pericoronitis Usually associated with wisdom teeth, this type
of infection can be found around a partially erupted tooth.
Periodontal Disease A disease of the gum tissue and the
Periodontal Ligament The tiny fibers that connect the tooth
root to the jaw bone
Periodontal Pocket When the gum tissue recedes from the crown
of the tooth, spaces or pockets are created which hold bacteria and
the resulting infection against the root surface of the tooth.
Periodontal Therapy Treatment to correct periodontal disease.
Periodontics The specialty in dentistry for the prevention,
diagnosis, and treatment of disease surrounding the supporting
tissues and supporting structures of the teeth.
Periodontitis Advanced gum disease.
Permanent Dentition The second set of teeth, secondary
dentition, permanent teeth.
Pin A pin is a small metal post which is cemented into the
crown portion of a tooth to aid in the retention of a large filling.
Pin-retained Restoration See pin. Pins are placed when there
is not enough tooth structure to adequately retain a filling.
Pit and Fissure Sealant See sealant.
Plaque The transparent, sticky layer of bacteria that
constantly form and collect on the surface of the teeth and gums. If
not removed or brushed away, it is responsible for the development
of tooth decay and gingivitis.
Plan Maximum See maximum benefit.
Pocket See periodontal pocket.
Pontic The replacement tooth for a missing tooth that is the
unit of a bridge.
Porcelain Restoration material made of glass available in a
variety of shades to be used in natural restorations for teeth.
Post and Core Buildup A small metal rod is placed in the
canal of a tooth that has had a root canal to give added support to
the final crown. Placed in the upper two thirds of the root, the
post is then surrounded by filling material that recreates the
missing tooth structure so a crown has something to be cemented to
for a permanent restoration.
Posterior Refers to the back, as in the back part of the
Preauthorization See predetermination.
Predetermination The amount of benefit that an insurance
company agrees to pay for a procedure determined prior to the
patient receiving treatment.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) A preferred group of
dentists who have contracted to provide dental services at a
discounted rate in return for access to the insurance plan's
subscribers. Can be known as contract dental organization (CDO).
Pregnancy Gingivitis The swelling and bleeding of the gum
tissue during pregnancy that is thought to be caused by hormonal
changes during pregnancy.
Pregnancy Tumor A localized, inflamed enlargement of gum
tissue during pregnancy
Primary Dentition The first set of teeth, baby teeth, milk
teeth or deciduous teeth.
Prophylaxis The professional cleaning of the teeth and mouth
that is completed by a dentist or hygienist in the dentist's office.
Prosthodontics A specialty of dentistry where the primary
focus is in the intricacies of removable and fixed replacements for
Pulp Cavity The interior chamber of the tooth containing the
blood vessels and nerves (pulp chamber)
Pulpectomy A procedure which removes the entire dental pulp.
Pulpotomy A procedure whereby a portion of the pulp is
removed from within the crown of the tooth. Sometimes done as an
emergency procedure to relieve the discomfort of a toothache in an
Radiograph An x-ray. X-rays serve to record the tooth and its
surrounding support structures on a special film.
Recurrant aphthous ulcers See canker sores.
Reline The procedure involving making a new, more closely
fitting surface to the denture base to improve fit, function and
Resins Tooth colored restoration materials including:
Acid-etch resins, microfill resins, or bonded resins.
Resorption Shrinkage, or dissolving away of either tooth or
Rests The metal components on partial dentures that keep the
partial in place and anchored.
Retainer A removable appliance that keeps the teeth in proper
position after braces are removed.
Root The part of a tooth which is below the crown and extends
in to the jawbone. The root is a hollow and contains the pulp of the
Root Amputation Removal of the tooth root.
Root Canal The space in the root of the tooth where there is
pulp tissue. Root canal therapy is the procedure to remove
diseased/infected pulp tissue, the canal is then cleaned, shaped and
Root Canal Therapy See root canal, endodontic therapy.
Root Planing The technique of smoothing the tooth root
surface in order to make it more difficult for the plaque to
accumulate, and allowing the gum tissue to reattach. Creates
healthier gum conditions.
Scaling The removal of plaque and calculus from the root
surface below the gumline. Done in combination with root planing.
Scheduled Plans See usual and customary rates, UCR
Sealant A protective covering of acid etched resin that is
applied to the biting surfaces of newly erupted permanent teeth to
prevent tooth decay.
Self-Insurance The employer acts as insurance provider.
Instead of paying plan premiums to the insurance company, the
employer issues benefits up to a certain dollar amount for the
employee and their dependents. Plan benefits are paid to the
dentist, or reimbursed to the employee after the services are
Spacing A gap between the teeth.
Subscriber The person who has been issued an insurance policy
by an insurance company. Immediate family covered under the
subscriber's plan are called dependents.
Supernumerary Tooth An extra tooth.
Tartar See calculus
Teething The biting, chewing and sucking that children do to
relieve discomfort when the primary teeth are erupting
Tempromandibular Joint(TMJ) The specialized hinge joint that
connects the upper and lower jaws allowing you to chew.
Therapeutic Any product that treats or prevents a disease.
Thrush See oral candidiasis. A common infection of the inside
of the mouth and tongue. Characterized by a yellow or white plaque,
when wiped away the underlying tissue is red. Most often associated
with a decreased host defense caused by a variety of drug therapies,
and systemic diseases. Can be found in adults, children and infants.
TMJ See tempromandibular joint.
Topical Anesthetic Anesthetic applied by spraying or swabbing
the surface tissue to provide some numbing relief prior to an
Traditional Plan See indemnity plan.
Trauma Damage Injury or impairment that causes injury to the
Twinning When two teeth grow from one tooth bud
UCR See usual and customary.
Unit Each anchor or abutment tooth and each replacement tooth
(pontic) in a bridge.
Usual and Customary Rate(UCR) The fee for specific or
particular service that has been established by an insurance company
to be the usual and customary for your area. Resulting reimbursement
benefits for insurance claims are based on this rate. Scheduled
Vital Tooth A tooth that has a healthy pulp.
Xerostomia The technical term for dry mouth.
Zinc oxide and eugenol Powdered zinc oxide and liquid eugenol
are mixed together as a base or temporary dental filling material.