Common Dentist Terminology
Dental Terminology

Dental Glossary

Our A-Z Guide on Dental Terminology

When complicated terms like "periodontal disease" and "bruxism" are being thrown around, it can be overwhelming trying to understand them all, especially when they form a crucial part of your treatment plan.

To help you grasp the key elements of your oral healthcare program, we've put together this handy A to Z guide of the top dental terms you may come across.


Abrasion -

The scraping or wearing away of mouth tissue through injury or the use of dental appliances.

Abscess -

When bacteria enter an injured or irritated mouth, it may cause an infection. The area may swell with pus (a yellow, thick fluid), becoming increasingly painful and swollen if it can't drain. To prevent this bacterial infection from spreading further, the body creates a barrier around it - this is known as an abscess.

Abutment -

These are the teeth that are used to support a bridge.

Advanced Periodontitis -

This is the final stage of gum disease in which the bone and fibers that help support your teeth are destroyed. Your teeth may feel looser or may shift, affecting your bite. Tooth removal may be necessary if an aggressive treatment isn't successful.

Air Abrasion -

The process of blasting abrasive air at parts of a tooth that need to be removed. Air abrasion may remove the need for an anesthetic.

Amalgam Filling -

Made from mercury, copper, silver, and tin, this is an inexpensive type of filling that's been used by dentists for over 150 years.

Anterior Teeth -

Your front six teeth, which are also known as cuspids and incisors.

Apicoectomy -

When the traditional form of root canal treatment isn't successful, this surgical procedure works to seal off the root tip.

Attrition -

A process whereby tooth structure is lost due to wear and tear.


Baby Teeth -

Sometimes referred to as primary teeth or deciduous teeth, these are the first set of teeth you are born with.

Bicuspids -

Located in front of the molars and after the cuspids, these teeth have two cusps and help you chew your food. Also known as premolars.

Bite -

The position your teeth take when they are clenched together. Sometimes known as an occlusion.

Bitewings -

Used to look for cavities that have formed in the back teeth, bitewings are a type of x-ray.

Bleeding Gums -

Although it is normal to experience some occasional bleeding after flossing or brushing your teeth, persistent bleeding should be investigated. Frequent bleeding gums may be a sign of inflammation or gingivitis.

Bonding -

This helps restore the natural look of your teeth by adhering resin materials to them. It may be used for lost tooth structures (caused by trauma or decay) or for cosmetic enhancement.

Bridges -

A removable type of denture that bridges the gap between one or more missing teeth. A bridge is supported by natural teeth or implants.

Bruxism -

The clenching or grinding of one's teeth, often while asleep. Causes include anxiety or stress, misaligned teeth, or certain medications and diseases.


Calculus -

The scientific name for tartar which forms when plaque hardens (often as a result of poor dental hygiene).

Canines -

The third tooth from the center of your mouth that's used to bite food. Also known as a cuspid.

Caries -

Dental caries are an early type of decay easily prevented with fluoride.

Cavities -

A type of tooth decay that occurs when bacteria create acid from sugar.

Closed Bite -

Sometimes referred to as a deep bite, this occurs when the lower teeth are covered by the upper ones when biting down.

Composite Filling -

Made from a mixture of fine glass and plastic particles to create a strong filling that's the same color as teeth.

Cosmetic Dentistry -

The line of dentistry that's dedicated to improving a person's oral health, appearance, and smile.

Crowding -

When there are too many teeth within an area of your mouth. This is treated by an orthodontist.

Crowns -

When a tooth is badly decayed or damaged, a crown can cover the tooth to help preserve it. It looks like the original tooth and may also be referred to as a "cap."

Cuspids -

Also known as canines, these are the teeth used for biting through food and are third from the center.


Decalcification -

When calcium is lost from the teeth, causing weakness and increasing susceptibility to decay.

Deciduous Teeth -

Also known as baby teeth, these are the first set of teeth you are born with.

Dental Implant -

Used to create a mount for replacement teeth, a dental implant is a surgically-positioned metal frame or post that's inserted into the jawbone underneath the gum.

Dentin -

This is a porous layer within the tooth that surrounds and protects the nerve. When exposed, it can cause sensitive teeth.

Dentures -

Removable replacements for missing teeth. Designed to be comfortable and look natural, dentures are available in partial or full sets.

Digital X-rays -

An instant tool that requires no waiting or developing of the radiographs. Digital x-rays may also be colorized, magnified, and have their density manipulated to provide more in-depth information to dentists. They also significantly reduce radiation exposure.


Edentulous -

When the upper and/or lower jaw is missing all of its teeth.

Enamel -

The exterior of the tooth that's hard and white and protects the dentin beneath.

Endodontics -

A treatment for injuries and diseases that affect the tooth's pulp or root tip.

Endodontist -

A specialist dentist who treats infections, diseases, and injuries of the root tip or pulp of a tooth.

Erosion -

A chemical acid process in which the enamel of the tooth is worn away. This acid may come from your diet or it may be gastric.


Fluoride -

Found in toothpaste, this natural mineral (derived from water and also the Earth's crust) helps harden enamel and prevent cavities.

Fluorosis -

When the enamel of the tooth becomes discolored, causing brown stains, pitting, or white lines/specks on the teeth. This is harmless but you may wish to undergo a cosmetic treatment for it.


Gingivitis -

When the bacteria found in dental plaque causes gum tissue to become inflamed. You might not know you have it as it causes little pain - if any. Left untreated, however, it may develop into periodontitis.

Gum Disease -

Caused by acids, plaque bacteria, and certain foods, gum disease can lead to inflamed gums and may affect the supporting bone and teeth.

Gum Recession -

When the roots of your teeth are exposed due to your gums receding. Often caused by surgery, periodontal disease, or abrasion.


Halitosis -

The scientific term for bad breath. Often caused by dry mouth, illness, diet, infection, or poor dental hygiene.

Hygienist -

A professional and licensed person who takes x-rays, cleans teeth, and provides other essential dental care services.


Impacted Tooth -

If a tooth fails to push through the gum or only partially emerges, it's known as an impacted tooth. This most frequently occurs within wisdom teeth.

Implant -

A replacement for lost teeth or a support for dentures whereby an artificial root is placed into the gum. A denture, bridge, or crown is then placed over the implant to restore your tooth function and smile.

Incisors -

Your four lower and upper teeth at the front that are shaped like chisels and are used for biting food.


Laser Gum Surgery -

A whole host of gum diseases can be treated with dental lasers. Gum tissue is restored without the need for surgery, stitches, or incisions.


Malocclusion -

When the lower and upper teeth are misaligned causing a "bad bite."

Mandible -

Your lower jaw.

Maxillar -

Your upper jaw.

Molars -

Your teeth at the rear that have several cusps at the top to help grind and chew food.


Nerve -

Found in the center of your tooth and forming part of the tooth pulp, the nerve senses pain.


Occlusal -

The surface of your back teeth that is used for chewing.

Occlusion -

When the lower and upper teeth come into contact, i.e. when you clench your teeth or chew food.

Oral Cancer -

Most frequently found inside the mouth, this is a type of cancer that causes sores that won't heal and tend to bleed.

Oral Hygiene -

The daily care required to keep your mouth and teeth healthy. Eating the right foods, flossing regularly, brushing your teeth twice a day, and visiting your dentist all play vital roles in good oral hygiene.

Orthodontics -

A specialist area of dentistry that focuses on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of oral irregularities. This includes the positioning of jaws and teeth.

Orthodontist -

A dentist who specializes in irregularities of the teeth and face.

Overbite -

This occurs when the upper teeth are too far forward and stick out over the lower ones. Sometimes known as "buck teeth" these are treated by an orthodontist.


Palate -

The soft and hard tissue that forms the roof of your mouth.

Periodontal Disease -

This results in severe damage to the bone and soft tissue that support your teeth. It may stem from inflamed gums or a more serious disease.

Periodontitis -

If gingivitis is left untreated it becomes periodontitis. It can destroy bone and tissue, causing tender, swollen, and painful gums. It may even lead to tooth loss.

Plaque -

An invisible army of germs that stick to your teeth and are harbored in your mouth. Plaque is also at the heart of gum disease and can destroy teeth and gum tissue.

Porcelain Veneers -

Used to treat discolored, chipped, broken, worn, or crooked teeth, or for cosmetic enhancement, porcelain veneers are bonded to your original teeth to restore and enhance their function and appearance.

Premolars -

Also known as bicuspids, these teeth are located just before the molars at the back of your mouth. They're characterized by their two points which help tear and crush food.

Pulpitis -

An infection or inflammation of the inside of your tooth (the pulp which contains blood vessels and nerves). It varies in severity but can cause pain within the tooth or other areas of your mouth and face.


Receding Gums -

When more of your teeth become exposed as your gums start to move away from them. This may be a result of poor brushing or plaque build-up.

Retainer -

After treatment with braces, you'll need to wear a retainer to help maintain the new position of your teeth. Even after your bite is corrected, your gums and bones need more time to stabilize.

Root Canal -

If your tooth pulp becomes diseased or damaged, it needs removing. Afterward, the space where the root was is cleaned and your tooth is sealed off.


Scaling -

A technique that works to remove tartar, biofilm, and plaque from your teeth and the area below your gum line. This may help ward off gum disease.

Supernumerary Teeth -

When you're born with extra teeth, these are known as supernumerary teeth.


Tartar -

When plaque hardens on the tooth or underneath the gum line, it forms tartar. If left untreated, it may cause damage to the gums and teeth.

Temporary Crown -

While a permanent crown is made for you, a temporary one made of stainless steel or acrylic may be put in its place.

Temporary Filling -

After decay is removed from your tooth, a temporary filling is used. These are often made of gold, amalgam, or composite resin.

Tooth Decay -

Where the tooth enamel is eroded by acid, resulting in demineralization. If left untreated, it may work its way toward the pulp of the tooth.

Tooth Sensitivity -

When your teeth become sensitive to pain, often due to dentin being exposed by periodontal disease or receding gums.

Tooth Whitening -

Helps to remove discoloration and stains, lightening the teeth back to their original color. This is an ongoing process that requires regular maintenance to keep the teeth white.


Underbite -

Where the lower teeth protrude further forward than the back teeth. This is treated by an orthodontist.

Unerupted Tooth -

A tooth that hasn't moved into the correct position and remains concealed within your gum.


Veneers -

Used to improve the appearance of abnormally-spaced, misaligned, worn-down, stained, or chipped teeth, veneers are thin shells that cover the original tooth. They are made of porcelain and are bonded to the teeth.


Wisdom Teeth -

These are located right at the back of the jaw and often emerge during your late teens or early twenties. In many cases, there isn't enough room for them, which is why many people opt to have them removed.


X-ray -

X-rays are a type of energy that are absorbed by dense tissue and pass through soft tissues. That's why they're a favored imaging tool used by dentists to see the teeth, jaw, and roots.