Dental Terms Glossary

If you’re looking for more information on a specific term having to do with dental health, our glossary below will provide definitions for many common terms and phrases. If you’re still unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist or hygienist! We love to answer your questions, and it’s our goal to keep you as comfortable as possible, which definitely includes knowing about what is going on in your mouth.

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Abrasion Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing technique or bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth).
Abscess A pus-filled, swollen tooth, soft tissue, or bone.
Alveolitis A painful and cringing sensation that is caused by the failure of blood to clot on the alveolar bone after a tooth extraction.
Amalgam A common silver-mercury filling material used to repair cavities. The material, also known as “silver fillings” contains silver, copper, tin and sometimes zinc.
Anesthesia A type of medication that results in partial or complete elimination of pain sensation.
Attrition The normal wearing down of the surface of a tooth from chewing.


Bicuspid Transitional teeth located between front teeth (incisors and canines) and molars.
Bitewing X-ray that shows the crowns of upper & lower teeth on the same film.
Bleaching The chemical or laser process of lightening the teeth to remove stains.
Braces Devices (wires, bands, ceramic appliances) used by orthodontists to gradually re-position teeth to a more favorable alignment.
Bonding Adhesive dental restoration technique whereby veneers are attached to teeth or are filled with amalgam.
Bridge Permanent false teeth designed to take the place of areas where there are gaps between teeth. Bridges are primarily installed to reinforce the bite and to prevent gum diseases.
Bruxism An impulsive and habitual grinding or gnashing of teeth, most commonly while the patient is asleep.


Calculus Also known as “tartar”, this hard residue clings on to teeth due to inadequate plaque control, eventually leading to tooth decay and gingivitis.
Caries This is the gradual collapse of teeth. Also known as “tooth decay”, caries is primarily caused by buildup of acid-producing carbohydrates.
Cavity Missing tooth structure commonly caused by decay, erosion or abrasion.
Composite Semi-solid material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles that is primarily used in creating dental fillings.
Crown The exterior or visible part of the tooth or the artificial material covering it. The crown is covered by enamel. Artificial crowns are composed of metal/porcelain substance. The primary role of artificial crowns is to restore and preserve a decayed tooth / teeth. See more information on dental crowns.
Cusp The high points on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (posterior teeth).
Cuspid Also known as a “canine”, this protruding tooth is located between incisors and premolars. It is used to tear food into pieces.


Deciduous Teeth These are the first teeth a child gets. They are also called primary teeth or baby teeth.
Dentin The inner layer of tooth structure. It is blanketed by the enamel.
Dentures Removable appliances that can replace one’s missing teeth.


Enamel The hard calcified tissue covering the dentin of the crown of the tooth. It protects the dentin and all inner parts of the tooth to be exposed to bacteria and other acidic elements that compromise the health of the tooth.
Endontist a dentist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp.


Fluoride A mineral that helps prevent tooth decay. It is commonly found in drinking water and in toothpastes. Fluoride strengthens the enamel, thus protecting teeth from tooth decay.


Gingivitis The inflammation of gum tissue causing the gums to swell up, become soft and eventually bleed.


Halitosis Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin.


Incisors The four upper & lower teeth, located at the front of the mouth excluding canine teeth and they are used primarily to bite and cut food.


Malocclusion The protrusion or misalignment of the upper & lower teeth .They may be too far apart, crooked or may not come together right when you bite down.
Mandible The lower jaw.
Maxilla The upper jaw.
Molar The three large back teeth in each dental quadrant used for grinding food. Molars are teeth identified by broad crowns. There are a total of eight molars found in the average adult mouth.


Night Guard A removable acrylic appliance that minimizes bruxism or joint problems. It’s usually worn at night.


Orthodontist A dental specialist who corrects malocclusions and other tooth deformities.
Osteoporosis A condition in which bones become thin and brittle.


Pediatric Dentist A specialist who treats children from birth through adolescence.
Periapical The area surrounding the end of a tooth root.
Periodontal Disease Gum disease that affects the gums and bones surrounding teeth. It causes inflammation and bleeding of gums. An example of periodontal disease is gingivitis.
Periodontist A dental specialist who treats gum diseases and the bones that support teeth, such as alveolar bone and temporomandibular joint.
Periodontitis A severe form of gum disease which can lead to tooth loss.
Plaque A soft, sticky substance that builds up on the enamel of the teeth. Plaque is composed of bacteria and food debris that cling on to the teeth.
Prophylaxis The professional cleaning of the teeth by a dentist or hygienist.
Prosthodontist A dentist who specializes in oral or maxillofacial surgery or prosthodontics.
Pulp The nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue inside a tooth.
Pulpitis The inflammation of the pulp, which is common cause of toothache.


Radiograph X-ray photos of teeth, alveolar bone, and the maxilla.
Root Canal Therapy A dental treatment of removing the pulp of a tooth. The tooth is usually filled with an inert material and sealed.


Sealant A thin plastic coating that can be put on the tops of molars and premolars. See more information on dental sealants.


Tartar Also known as “calculus”, is the hard deposit that builds up on the surface of teeth and produces a rough surface that attracts plaque.


Veneer Thin, custom-made shell of tooth-colored plastic or porcelain designed to cover the front side of teeth. Veneers improve the appearance of teeth, replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth, or change color and/or shape.


Wisdom Teeth The final set of molars to come in during young adulthood, that is between ages of 15 to 25. Also called third molars.

Additional Resources

For more information about commonly-used (and some lesser-known) dental terms, and for general information on oral health including things that you can be doing to maintain good oral hygiene, visit the websites below.