Glossary of Commonly Used Dental Terminology


An abutment is a tooth or part of a dental implant that a prosthetic appliance (a bridge or artificial crown) is attached to for support.


An abscess is a localized collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue. An abscessed tooth is an infected tooth that has caused an abscess in the gum.

ADA Seal of Acceptance

The ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance is a scientifically evaluated seal on approved products. To earn a Seal, companies are asked to meet higher standards than what is required by law. Look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance on products like toothpaste and mouthwash.

Alloplastic Material

Alloplastic material is a biological material used in grafting, either manufactured completely synthetically, or produced by processing xenogeneic types of tissue and/or structures.


Anesthesia is a type of medication which produces the loss of sensation with or without loss of consciousness. Numbing a tooth is an example of local anesthesia. General anesthesia causes partial or complete unconsciousness.

Alveolar Bone

The alveolar bone is the bone that surrounds the root of the tooth anchoring it in place.


Amalgam is a mixture of mercury (50/50) with a combination of silver, tin, copper and other metals used to fill cavities. Amalgam has been used in dentistry for over 150 years.

Anaerobic Bacteria

Anaerobic bacteria a type of bacteria that does not need oxygen to grow, typically associated with periodontal disease.


An antibiotic is a type of medication that stops or slows the growth of bacteria.


An antiseptic is a chemical agent that can be applied to living tissues to destroy germs. An example of an antiseptic product could be a mouthwash.


The apex is the tip of the root to the tooth.


An appliance is any removable dental restoration or orthodontic device. Examples of dental appliances are dentures, retainers, Invisalign®, etc.


An avulsion is when entire tooth, including the root is knocked out.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is tooth decay in infants or small children caused from the use of bottles or sippy-cups. Typically affecting the front teeth, these types of cups allow liquids and sugars to cling to the teeth for long periods of time and ultimately cause decay and discoloration of the teeth. Also known as “early childhood caries”.


Bicuspids are the fourth and fifth teeth from the front teeth to the back of the mouth. These teeth are used for chewing and only have two points (cusps). Adults have eight bicuspids, also known as premolars, two in front of each group of molars.


Bilateral pertains to both right and left sides of the mouth.


A biopsy is the removal and examination of tissue, cells, or fluids from the living body.


The bite is the relationship between your upper and lower teeth when closing your jaw (occlusion).


Bleaching is a chemical treatment of peroxide used on the natural teeth to have a whitening effect.

Bone Resorption

Bone resorption is the decrease in the amount of bone supporting the roots of teeth. This is a common result of periodontal disease.


Bonding is the process of attaching dental materials to the teeth. This includes composite resin, porcelain and metal.


Bruxism is the habit of unconsciously grinding teeth, typically during situations of stress or during sleep.


Calculus are hard, calcium-like deposits on teeth due to inadequate plaque control, often yellow or brown, also known as tartar.

Canker Sore

A canker sore are small shallow ulcers that appear in the mouth, typically on the inside of the lips or cheeks. They make eating and chewing uncomfortable and usually appear in people between the ages of 10 and 20. They last about a week before disappearing. Canker sores can be caused by scratches or stress of the soft tissues of the mouth. Spicy foods and stress can also be canker sore culprits.

If you have a canker sore, rinse your mouth out using salt water or a baking soda rinse. Try dabbing milk of magnesia on your sore a few times a day to help with pain and promote healing. 


A cap is a common term for a dental crown.


Caries refers to tooth decay or cavities.


A cavity is an area of decay in a tooth. Also referred to as a carious lesion.


Cementum is a hard connective tissue covering the root of the tooth.

Cleft Lip / Palate

A cleft lip is a physical split or separation of the two side of the upper lip. This separation often occurs from the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or gum.

A cleft palate is the split or opening in the roof of the mouth.

Composite filling

Composite fillings are a tooth-colored restorative material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles. Composite fillings are typically “cured” or hardened with a filtered light or chemical catalyst. It is an alternative filling to silver amalgam fillings.

Cosmetic Dentistry

Cosmetic dentistry refers to any dental treatment or repair that is solely rendered to improve the appearance of the teeth or mouth.


A crown can mean the portion of a tooth above the gum line that is covered in enamel.


A crown can be a dental restoration that covers most of the natural tooth. It is an artificial cap that is commonly made of porcelain, composite or metal and is cemented on top of the damaged tooth.


Crown lengthening is a surgical procedure exposing more of the tooth for restorative purposes.


Curettage is a deep scaling of the portion of the tooth below the gum line. The purpose of scaling is to remove calculus and infected gum tissue.


Cusps are the high points on the chewing surfaces of back teeth.


A cyst is an abnormal sac containing gas, fluid, or a semisolid material.

Dental Prophylaxis

Dental prophylaxis is the cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of periodontal disease and tooth decay.

Dental Prosthesis

A dental prosthesis is a fixed or removable appliance used to replace missing teeth (for example, bridges, flippers, and dentures).

Dental Specialist

A dental specialist is a dentist that has received postgraduate training in one of the recognized dental specialties. There are 10 recognized dental specialties: Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics and Prosthodontics. 


A doctor of dental surgery


Decay is the decomposition of a tooth caused by toxins and acids produced by bacteria.

Deciduous Teeth

Deciduous teeth, also known as “baby teeth” or primary teeth, are the first set of, usually, 20 teeth a person has.


Demineralization is the loss of minerals from tooth enamel. It occurs just below the surface of a carious lesion and usually appears as a white area on the tooth surface


Dentin is the inner layer of the tooth, directly under the enamel.


A doctor of medical dentistry


Dentures are a removable or fixed artificial teeth used to replace missing teeth and the surrounding tissues. There are two types of dentures, complete and partial. Complete dentures are used when all natural teeth are missing and partials are used when some natural teeth still remain.

Denture Base

The denture base is the part of the denture that holds the artificial teeth and fits over the gums.

Direct Restoration

A direct restoration is a type of restoration fabricated inside the mouth.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is the condition of not having enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. If it goes untreated, it can lead to increased levels of tooth decay, infections, and even bad breath.

Dry Socket

Dry socket is a common complication that occurs when either a blood clot has failed to form or becomes dislodged in a socket where a tooth had been extracted.


Edentulous is to have no teeth


Enamel is the hard, mineralized material covering the outside of the tooth that lies above the gum line (the crown).


Endodontics is the type of dentistry that is concerned with the biology and pathology of the dental pulp and root tissues. It deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries to these tissues. Root canal therapy is a commonly performed endodontic procedure.


Eruption refers to the emergence of a tooth breaking through the gum line.


Erosion is the wearing down of the tooth structure and enamel, cause by acids.


Excision is the surgical removal of bone and tissue.


Extraction refers to the removal of a tooth.

Extruded Tooth

An extruded tooth has been partially displaced due to trauma. The tooth often appears longer than surrounding teeth.


A filling is used in the restoration of a decayed section of tooth. Typically made from metal, porcelain, or resin materials.

Fixed appliances

Fixed appliances are an orthodontic device, commonly known as braces, which are bonded to the teeth to produce movements to help reposition teeth for orthodontic therapy.


A fistula is a gum boil; an infection site in the gum that is emanating pus.


A flipper is a temporary replacement teeth or tooth.


Floss is a thin, thread like material used to clean between teeth, removing food particles and plaque. Typically made from nylon string, waxed or un-waxed. This is part of a good oral health routine.


A trendy dance move.


Fluoride is a mineral that helps to strengthen teeth enamel making teeth less susceptible to decay. It can be found in toothpaste, in some states – tap water, and low levels of fluoride can even be found in foods. Fluoride can also be applied by the dentist as a gel or liquid to the surface of teeth during your appointment.


Fluorosis is a discoloration of the enamel due to too much fluoride ingestion into the bloodstream. This is also known as enamel mottling.


A fracture is the cracking or breaking of a tooth. Known as a root fracture, broken or chipped tooth.

Full-mouth x-rays

Full-mouth x-rays are a combination of 18 or more films of the teeth. This series of x-rays reveals all the teeth (crowns and roots) and the alveolar bone around them.


Gingiva refers to the gums.


Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes inflammation and bleeding of the gums. If not treated properly, it can turn into periodontitis and tooth loss due to the destruction of tissue that surround and support the teeth.


Gingivoplasty is a procedure performed by a periodontist to reshape the gum lines and tissue.

Gum Recession

Gum recession causes exposure of dental roots because of shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, erosion, periodontal disease or surgery.

Gutta Percha

Gutta percha is the material used in the filling of root canals.


A graft is a piece of tissue or alloplastic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect.


Halitosis is an extreme case of bad breath. It can be caused by certain foods, poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, smoking, alcohol consumption or even by certain medical conditions. Halitosis can occur on occasion or be chronic.

Hard Palate

The hard palate is the front bony portion of the roof of the mouth.


A hygienist is a licensed dental professional who uses preventive, therapeutic and educational methods to control oral diseases.


Hypersensitivity refers to a sharp, sudden painful reaction in teeth when exposed to hot, cold, sweet, sour, chemical, or mechanical stimuli.       

Immediate Denture

An immediate denture is a complete or partial denture that is made in advance of an appointment and can be positioned as soon as the natural teeth are removed.

Impacted tooth

An impacted tooth is a tooth that is partially or completely blocked from erupting through the surface of the gum. An impacted tooth may push other teeth or damage boney structures supporting an adjacent tooth. Often impacted teeth must be surgically removed.


An implant is a metal post (typically made from titanium) which is surgically placed into the upper or lower jawbone where a tooth is missing. It is used as an anchor for the crown, bridge or denture that is placed over it.


An impression is a mold made of the teeth and soft tissues.

Incision and Drainage

Incision and drainage refers to the surgical incision of an abscess to drain pus.


Incisors are a narrow edged tooth at the front of the mouth. In humans, there are four incisors in each jaw.


An inlay is similar to a filling but made outside of the mouth and then cemented or bonded in. The entire inlay lies within the cusps of the chewing surface of a tooth.


Interproximal refers to between the teeth.


Intraoral refers to within the mouth.

Intruded Tooth

An intruded tooth is a partial displacement of a tooth. It causes the tooth to look shorter than the surrounding teeth.


Labial relates to the lips.

Lateral Displacement

Lateral displacement is the partial dislocation of a tooth where it has been pushed back or pulled forward.


A lesion is an injury, wound; area of diseased tissue.


Leukoplakia is a white or gray patch that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. It is the mouth’s reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth.


Lingual pertains to the tongue.


Luxation is the dislocation of a tooth. It is still in the socket but not in the correct position.


Malignant refers to being very virulent or infectious – having the properties of dysplasia, invasion, and metastasis.


Malocclusion is the improper alignment of the teeth and jaw.


The mandible is the lower jaw.


The maxilla is the upper Jaw.


The molars are the back teeth, used for chewing and grinding food. Most people have 12 molars in total - 3 in each quadrant of the mouth.

Mouth Guard

A mouth guard is a removable appliance worn during high impact sports to protect teeth from any sort of impact or injury.

Night Guard

A nightguard, also known as a bite guard, is a removable appliance, worn at night, that fits over the upper and lower teeth used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damaged caused by the grinding of teeth during sleep.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is a gas, also known as “laughing gas”, used to relieve patient anxiety and increasing the tolerance of pain.


Occlusal pertains to the biting surfaces of the pre-molars (bicupsids) and molar teeth.     


An onlay is a type of restoration (filling) made of metal, porcelain, or acrylic that is more extensive than an inlay in that it covers more cusps. Onlays are sometime referred to as partial crowns.

Oral Cavity

The oral cavity is the inside of the mouth.

Oral Pathologist

An oral pathologist is a health provider that studies and specializes in the causes of diseases that alter or affect the oral structures of the mouth, teeth, lips, cheeks, jaws, and parts of the face and neck.

Oral Surgeon

An oral health provider who performs different types of surgical procedures in and around the entire face, mouth and jaw.


Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the alignment of your teeth, jaw and bite. Orthodontic treatments include traditional braces, clear aligner treatment, headgear, expanders and corrective jaw surgery.


An orthodontist is a health provider who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, interception and treatment of malocclusions of teeth and surrounding structures.


An overbite is an excessive protrusion of the upper jaw resulting in an overlap of the front teeth.


An overjet refers to the excessive protrusion of the upper jaw resulting in the horizontal overlap of the front teeth.


An overdenture is a type of denture that fits over residual tooth roots or an existing dental implant.


The palate is the hard and soft tissues forming the roof of your mouth.

Partial denture

A partial denture is a removable appliance used to replace missing teeth in a mouth that still have natural teeth remaining.


Periodontal refers to the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.


Periodontitis is an advanced stage of periodontal disease where the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets and teeth supporting bone is destroyed.


Plaque is a colorless to yellow sticky substance that forms on the teeth. It is composed of undigested food, saliva and bacteria. If left in the mouth, it eventually turns into tartar or calculus, becoming hard and causing dental caries and periodontal disease. 


Preventistry is our all in approach to revolutionize the oral health care industry to prevent oral disease rather than only being focused on treating oral disease. We do this through education, better care, greater access, innovative solutions, and transformative systems change.


Prophylaxis is the cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of oral disease and tooth decay.


Pulp is the living part of the tooth, located inside the dentin. Pulp is what contains the nerve tissue and blood vessels that supply the nutrients to the tooth.


Radiographic is another term for X-ray.


Recontouring is a cosmetic procedure where small amounts of enamel are filed down to change the shape of a tooth. Also known as odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping, or slenderizing.


A reline is resurfacing the side of the denture that is in contact with the soft tissues of the mouth to make it fit.

Removable Partial Denture (Removable Bridge)

A removable partial denture is a prosthetic tooth replacement appliance for someone who still has some natural teeth left that can be removed from the mouth easily.


The root is the part of the tooth that is located under the gum line (socket) and anchors the tooth in the mouth.

Root canal

A root canal is the portion of the pulp cavity inside the root of the tooth.


A root canal is a procedure to save an abscessed tooth where the pulp chamber is cleaned out, disinfected and filled with a permanent filling.


Saliva is the clear, lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells, and undigested food particles.


Scaling is a deep cleaning, non-surgical procedure where plaque and tartar are removed from above and below the gum line.


Sealants are a thin clear or white resin coating which is applied to the biting surfaces of teeth to prevent decay.

Silver Diamine Fluoride

Silver diamine fluoride is an FDA-approved antibiotic liquid clinically applied to the teeth to control active dental caries and prevent further progression of disease.

Submandibular Glands

Submandibular glands are walnut-sized major salivary glands located beneath the tongue.

Supernumerary Tooth

A supernumerary tooth is an extra tooth.


A suture is a stitch used to repair and close an open wound.


Tartar is a common term for dental calculus, a hard deposit that adheres to the teeth. It produces a rough surface that attracts plaque.

Temporomandibularjoint (TMJ)

Temporomandubularjoint (TMJ) is a term used to describe a problem that occurs with the muscle and joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. The condition is characterized by facial pain and the restricted ability to open or move the jaw. It is often accompanied by a clicking or popping sound when the jaw is opened and closed.


Thrush is an infection in the mouth cause by the fungus Candida.

Topical Anesthetic

Topical anesthetic is an ointment that produces a mild anesthesia when applied to soft tissue surfaces.


A transplant refers to placing a natural tooth in the socket of another tooth.


Trauma is an injury caused by external force, chemicals, extreme temperatures, or poor tooth alignment.


An underbite is when the lower jaw protrudes forward causing the lower jaw and teeth to extend beyond the upper teeth and jaw.

Unerupted Tooth

An unerupted tooth is a tooth that has not broken through the gum line and assumed the correct position in the mouth.


A veneer is a thin, custom-made shell of tooth colored plastic or porcelain that is bonded directly to the front side of the natural tooth to help improve the appearance of a smile. Veneers are used to replace lost tooth structure, close space, give the appearance of straightened teeth, or change the color and/or shape of teeth.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are the third molars in the very back of the mouth. These molars typically erupt between the ages of 18 and 25.


Xerostomia refers to dry mouth or a decrease in saliva production.


An x-ray is a high frequency light (or radiation) that penetrates different substance and materials at different rates and absorption. In dentistry, there are typically four types of x-rays: periapical, bite-wing, occlusal, and panoramic.

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Gary Allen, DMD, Advantage Dental Group, P.C. | James Thommes, DDS, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Massachusetts, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health And Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Oklahoma, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Texas, P.C. | Cory White, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | John Clasen, OD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | Neil Williams, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Florida, PA