Dental Terminology

Browse the following dental vocabulary to better communicate with your dentist and children.

Bleaching

The process of lightening the teeth to remove stains. The process usually involves a chemical oxidizing agent and sometimes uses heat.

Cavity

Missing tooth structure. A cavity may be due to decay, erosion or abrasion. If caused by caries; also referred to as a carious lesion.

Crown

A crown is a single, artificial tooth that fits over a real tooth that has been specially shaped. It can also fit over a dental implant.

Decay

Term for cavities; the decomposition of tooth structure.

Dentures

A set of artificial teeth. They can replace all of one’s teeth (complete dentures) or a section of teeth (partial dentures).

Enamel

The hard calcified tissue covering the dentin of the crown of the tooth.

Extract

The process to pull or remove a tooth.

Floss

Thick string used to remove food trapped between your teeth and remove bacteria that cannot be reached by brushing alone. It is usually made from nylon filaments or plastic monofilaments and may be treated with flavoring agents to make flossing more pleasant.

Fluoride

A mineral that helps prevent tooth decay (cavities).

Gingivitis

Inflammation of gum tissue without loss of connective tissue.

Gum Disease

A disease that may cause gums to be red, swollen and bleed easily. If it is not treated, gum disease can get worse and damage the tissues that hold your teeth in place. It is also called gingivitis or periodontal disease, depending on the severity.

Implant

An artificial tooth root that dentists put in the jaw bone. The dentist can put an artificial tooth (or crown) on the implant, or you can use implants to hold bridges or dentures in place.

Malocclusion

This term is used to describe teeth that don’t line up correctly in the mouth. They may be too far apart, crooked or may not come together right when you bite down.

Molars

The large teeth in the back of your mouth. We use our molars to chew food.

Oral Hygiene

Activities you do to keep your mouth clean including brushing your teeth, cheeks, tongue and dentures. They also can include using mouthwash or dental floss, or having a dentist or hygienist clean your teeth.

Periodontal Disease

More commonly known as gum disease, it is caused by plaque. When the plaque is not removed it can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. Your gums may also become inflamed and bleed easily.

Periodontitis

A severe form of gum disease which can lead to tooth loss. 

Plaque: A soft, sticky, thin layer of bacteria that forms on your teeth all the time.

Primary Teeth

This is the first set of teeth that you get when you are a child. These are sometimes called baby teeth.

Prophylaxis

Removal of plaque, calculus and stains from the tooth structures. Usually called a prophy or teeth cleaning, this procedure is performed in dental offices.

Pulp

The blood supply and nerves for the tooth.

Radiograph

A picture of the bones or teeth inside the body. It also is called an X-ray.

Recede

This describes when the gums pull away from the teeth. It also can be called recession.

Root Canal

A dental treatment for a tooth infection. During a root canal, the blood supply and nerves of the tooth are removed. After that, the tooth is usually filled with a material and sealed, or is specially shaped and covered with an artificial tooth (a crown).

Sealant

A thin plastic coating that can be put on the tops of molars and premolars (the big teeth in the back of your mouth). Sealants get hard and keep food from getting packed in the surfaces of these teeth. They help prevent cavities.

Space Maintainer

A gadget used to maintain a space in your mouth. You would use a space maintainer when you lose one of your baby teeth. The space maintainer will keep a space in your mouth until a permenant tooth comes in to fill the space.

Staining

Discoloration of tooth surfaces. Can happen as the result of injury, genetics, smoking, certain medications, drinking of coffee or tea but is ultimately a part of aging.

Stomatitis

An irritation of any of the soft tissues of the mouth: lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, floor or roof of the mouth.

Tooth decay

A hole in the tooth caused by the acid in plaque. The more common name is cavity.

Tooth extraction

The removal of a tooth from the bone socket and surrounding gums.

Veneer

Thin, custom-made shells crafted of tooth-colored materials designed to cover the front side of teeth.

Whitening

Any process that will make teeth appear whiter. It can be achieved with a bleaching or non-bleaching product. Whitening options range from in-office procedures to whitening toothpastes.

Wisdom Teeth

The last teeth to come in during young adulthood. Also called third molars.