Glossary of Dental Clinical Terms

Glossary of Dental Clinical Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Abscess – A localized infection in the bone or soft gum tissues, usually at the end of the root tip.
Abutment – The natural tooth that holds in place a fixed or removable bridge.
Air Abrasion – Tiny particles of aluminum oxide blasted in a stream of water at the tooth to remove the decayed debris and ruined enamel of cavities.
Adhesion: State in which two surfaces are held together by chemical or physical forces or both with or without the aid of an adhesive. Adhesion is one aspect of bonding.
Acid etching: Use of an acidic chemical substance to prepare the tooth enamel and or dentin surface to provide retention for bonding.
Allergy – Unfavorable systemic response to a foreign substance or drug.
Alveolar Bone – The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth.
Amalgam – The most common filling material used for fillings, also referred to as mercury or silver.
Analgesia – A state of pain relief; an agent to lessen pain.
Anesthesia – Relieves the sensation of pain. See General Anesthesia, IV Sedation and Local Anesthesia.
Anterior Teeth – The six upper or six lower front teeth.
Antibiotic – A drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria.
Apex– The tip of the root of a tooth.
Apicoectomy – Surgical removal of the root tip to treat a dead tooth.
Arch – Describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth.
Attrition – Loss of structure due to natural wear.
Autoclave – A device that has a chamber where instruments are placed and steam under pressure is injected, in order to complete sterilization.


Base – Cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the nerve chamber.
Bicuspid or Pre-Molar -Transitional teeth behind the cuspids.
Biopsy – Removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination.
Bite – The way in which the upper and lower teeth meet when closing the mouth.
Bite Wings – Decay detection x-rays.
Bleaching – Chemical or laser treatment of natural teeth for whitening effect.
Bonding – The covering of a tooth surface with a composite resin, to correct stained or damaged teeth.
Braces – Devices used by Orthodontists to gradually reposition teeth.
Bridge – Prosthetic (false) teeth or row of teeth that spans between two natural teeth.
Bruxism – Involuntary, “nervous” grinding of the teeth while the patient is asleep.
Buccal – Refers to the cheek side of back tooth.


Calcium – Chemical element needed for healthy teeth, bones and nerves.
Calculus – Hard residue, commonly know as “tartar”, that forms on teeth due to inadequate plaque control, often stained yellow or brown.
Canker Sore – Mouth sore appearing whitish, often with a red halo.
Cantilever Bridge – Fixed bridge that attaches to adjacent teeth only on one end.
Cap – Common term for dental crown (See Crown).
Cavities – A decay lesion or hole in a tooth.

Cement Base – Material used under a filling to replace lost tooth structure.
Clasp – Device that holds a removable partial denture to stationary teeth.
CleaningRemoval of plaque and tartar from teeth, generally above the gum line.
Composite Filling – A tooth-colored filling that looks like a natural tooth.
Cosmetic Dentistry – Treatments performed to enhance appearance (e.g., bleaching, veneers).
Crown – A porcelain or gold cover for a decayed, damaged, or discolored tooth.
Cross BiteReverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth, e.g., “under bite”.
CurettageRemoval of diseased tissue from a periodontal pocket.
Cuspids – The large pointed teeth at the corners of the mouth, located between the incisors and bicuspids. Also known as canine or eye teeth.
Cusps – The raised round parts on the chewing surface of the teeth.


Deep Sedation–a drug-induced depression of consciousness during which patients cannot be easily aroused but respond purposefully following repeated or painful stimulation. The ability to independently maintain ventilatory function may be impaired. Patients may require assistance in maintaining a patent airway, and spontaneous ventilation may be inadequate. Cardiovascular function is usually maintained.
DDS – Doctor of Dental Surgery.
DMD – Doctor of Medical Dentistry.
Decay – Destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria.
Deciduous Teeth – Commonly called “baby teeth”, the first set of (usually) twenty teeth.
Dentin – Inner layer of tooth structure, immediately under the surface enamel.
Dental Floss – A waxed or unwaxed piece of nylon string that is inserted between the teeth and moved in an up/down fashion for the removal of plaque or other food deposits.
Dental Implant – Usually a titanium cylinder surgically placed in the bone of the upper or lower jaw to provide support for a dental restoration or appliance.
Dentition – The arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth.
Denture – Removable (partial or complete) set of artificial teeth.
Diastema – Space between teeth.


Enamel – The hard tissue covering the portion of tooth above the gum line. The hardest substance in the body.
Endodontics – The branch of dentistry concerned with the treatment of the dental pulp or nerve of the tooth. The most common procedure is a root canal.
Endodontist – A specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp.
Extraction – Removal of a tooth.


Facial – Refers to the cheek(lip)side of a front (or back) tooth.
Filling – Material used to fill a cavity or replace part of a tooth.
Fixed Partial Denture: A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or otherwise attached to the abutment natural teeth or their implant replacements.
Fluoride – A chemical compound used to prevent dental decay, utilized in fluoridated water systems and/or applied directly to the teeth.
Frenum – Muscle fibers covered by a mucous membrane that attaches the cheek, lips and or tongue to associated dental mucosa.
Frenectomy – The removal of a frenum.


General Anesthesia–a drug-induced loss of consciousness during which patients are not arousable, even by painful stimulation. The ability to independently maintain ventilatory function is often impaired. Patients often require assistance in maintaining a patent airway, and positive pressure ventilation may be required because of depressed spontaneous ventilation or drug-induced depression of neuromuscular function. Cardiovascular function may be impaired.
Gingiva – The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.
Gingivectomy – The surgical removal of gingiva (gum).
Gingivitis – An inflammation or infection of the gingiva (gum tissue); the initial stage of gum disease.
Gingivoplasty – A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva (gum).
Gluma – Gluma is a desensitizing chemistry for treating and preventing dentinal hypersensitivity. Gluma’s patented (Heraeus Kulzer) glutaraldehyde/HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) formula acts in seconds to seal dentinal tubules, preventing the fluid shifting recognized as the primary cause of localized hypersensitivity. Gluma also inhibits the growth of bacteria, which are also indicated as a cause of sensitivity. Gluma’s patented formula works within the dentinal tubule complex by reacting with protein fluids to form a physiological seal within the tubules. No surface layer is formed, making Gluma ideal for use under all indirect restorations.
Graft – A piece of gum tissue or synthetic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.
Gum – See “Gingiva.”
Gum disease – See “Periodontal disease.”


High noble metal – See “Metals, classification of.”
HIPAA – The HIPAA privacy rules, which healthcare providers must comply with beginning April 14th, 2003, are part of a broad band of legislation contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which Congress adopted into law in 1996.
Hypersensitivity – Typically refers to tooth pain that is caused very easily and with a stimulus that normally would elicit no feeling.


Immediate denture – A denture constructed for immediate placement after removal of teeth.
Impacted tooth – An unerupted or partially erupted tooth whose complete eruption is unlikely.
Implant – An artificial device, usually made of a metal alloy or ceramic material, that is implanted within the jawbone as a means to attach an artificial crown, denture, or bridge.
Incisal edge – The biting edge of front teeth. Compare to occlusal surface.
Incisors – The four front teeth referred to as central and lateral incisors, located in the upper and lower jaws and used to cut and tear food. The central incisors are the two teeth in the middle of the mouth and the lateral incisors are next to the central incisor, one on each side.
Indirect pulp cap – A procedure in which the nearly exposed pulp is covered with a protective dressing to protect the pulp from additional injury and to promote healing and repair via formation of secondary dentin.
Indirect restoration – Restorations in dental terminology refer to repairs of teeth, like fillings; however, there are many ways to repair teeth in addition to fillings. Fillings, whether they are gold foil, silver/amalgam, or tooth-colored composite fillings are all placed directly into teeth and are completed as one continuous procedure – these are direct restorations. Indirect restorations include inlays, onlays, and crowns. These types of restorations are made after the tooth has been shaped (also called prepared), and are cemented or bonded in as a separate procedure – these are indirect restorations.
Inlay – A strong, durable material made outside the mouth used to replace part of a tooth (can be metallic or tooth-colored) and is cemented or bonded once it is constructed. Compare to a filling which is packed into the tooth. An inlay is an indirect restoration.
Interproximal – The area between two adjacent teeth.
Intracoronal – The area inside the crown of a tooth.
Intraoral – The inside of the mouth.
Intravenous – A technique of administration in which the anesthetic agent is introduced directly into the patient’s venous system.


Labial – The area pertaining to or around the lip.
Laser Cavity Detection – A laser diode provides pulsed light of a defined wave-length that is directed onto the tooth. When the light meets a change in tooth substance, it stimulates fluorescent light of a different wavelength. This is translated through the handpiece into an acoustic signal, and the wavelength is then evaluated by an appropriate electronic system.
Lingual – The area pertaining to or around the tongue. Also referring to the tongue-side as opposed to the cheek-side. See “Buccal, Facial.”
Local anesthetic – The injection given in the mouth to numb the areas where a tooth or area requires a dental procedure. Often referred to as Novocain.


Malocclusion – The improper alignment of teeth.
Mandible – The lower jaw.
Maryland bridge – The name that has become synonymous with any resin bonded fixed partial denture (bridge). Typically, a Maryland bridge does not require as much shaping for the anchor teeth like a conventional bridge.
Mastication – The act of chewing.
Maxilla – The upper jaw.
Mesial – Refers to the side of tooth, between teeth, towards the front. See “Distal.”
Metals, classification of – The noble metal classification system has been adopted as a more precise method of reporting various alloys in dentistry commonly used in crowns, bridges and dentures. These alloys contain varying percentages of gold, palladium and/or platinum.
high noble contains 60% or more of gold, palladium, and/or platinum (with at least 40% gold) noble contains 25% or more of gold, palladium and/or platinum predominantly base contains less than 25% gold, palladium and/or platinum Molars – The broad back teeth, used for grinding food are considered the largest teeth in the mouth. In adults there are a total of twelve molars (including the four wisdom teeth, or third molars), three on each side of the upper and lower jaws. Ideally, a healthy mouth usually does not include wisdom teeth.
Minimal Sedation – A minimally depressed level of consciousness, produced by a pharmacological method, that retains the patient\’s ability to independently and continuously maintain an airway and respond normally to tactile stimulation and verbal command. Although cognitive function and coordination may be modestly impaired, ventilatory and cardiovascular functions are unaffected.
Moderate Sedation–a drug-induced depression of consciousness during which patients respond purposefully to verbal commands, either alone or accompanied by light tactile stimulation. No interventions are required to maintain a patent airway, and spontaneous ventilation is adequate. Cardiovascular function is usually maintained.


Nitrous oxide – A controlled mixture of nitrogen and oxygen gases (N2O) that is inhaled by the person in order to decrease sensitivity to pain and/or anxiety. Also referred to as laughing gas.
Novocain – A generic name for the many kinds of anesthetics used in the dental injection, such as Xylocaine, Lidocaine, Novocain and other local anesthetics. Novocain has not actually been used for decades. See “Local Aanesthetic.”


Occlusal x-ray – An intraoral x-ray taken with the film held between the teeth in biting position.
Occlusal surface – The chewing surface of the back teeth. Compare to incisal edge.
Occlusion – Any contact between biting or chewing surfaces of upper and lower teeth.
Onlay – A strong, durable material made outside the mouth used to replace part of a tooth, including one or more points or cusps of the tooth, (can be metallic or tooth-colored) and is cemented or bonded once it is constructed. Compare to a filling which is packed into the tooth. Also compare to an inlay, which does not replace a cusp. An onlay is an indirect restoration.
Oral surgery – The removal of teeth and the repair and treatment of other oral problems, such as tumors and fractures.
Orthodontics – A specialized branch of dentistry that corrects malocclusion and restores the teeth to proper alignment and function. There are several different types of appliances used in orthodontics, one of which is commonly referred to as braces.
Overbite – Refers to the vertical overlap of teeth. Everyone has an overbite, what varies is how much.
Overjet – Refers to the horizontal overlap of teeth. Everyone has an overjet, what varies is how much. A substantial overjet is sometimes referred to as “buck” teeth.


Palate – The hard and soft tissues forming the roof of the mouth.
Palliative – Treatment that relieves pain but is NOT curative.
Palmer Notation – see “Tooth Numbering”
Panorex – An extraoral full-mouth X-ray that records the teeth and the upper and lower jaws on one film.
Partial denture – A removable appliance used to replace one or more lost teeth.
Pediatric dentistry – The specialized branch of dentistry that deals solely with treating children’s dental disease. Also referred to as pedodontics.
Periapical – The area that surrounds the root tip of a tooth.
Pericoronitis – An inflammation of the gum tissue around the crown of a tooth.
Periodontal – Relating to the tissue and bone that supports the tooth (from peri, meaning “around,” and odont, “tooth”).
Periodontal disease – The inflammation and infection of gums, ligaments, bone, and other tissues surrounding the teeth. Gingivitis (gums) and periodontitis (gums and bone) are the two main forms of periodontal disease. Also called gum disease or pyorrhea.
Periodontal pocket – An abnormal deepening of the gum crevice. It is caused when disease and infection destroy the ligament that attaches the gum to the tooth and the underlying bone.
Periodontal surgery – A surgical procedure involving the gums and jawbone.
Periodontics – The dental specialty that deals with and treats the gum tissue and bone that supports the teeth.
Periodontist – Dental specialist with expertise in surgically treating the effects of periodontal disease.
Periodontitis – Inflammation of the supporting structures of the tooth, including the gum, the periodontal ligament, and the jawbone.
Periradicular – The area which surrounds a portion of the root of the tooth.
Permanent teeth – The thirty-two adult teeth that replace the baby, or primary teeth. Also known as secondary teeth.
Pit – A recessed area found on the surface of a tooth, usually where the grooves of the tooth meet.
Plaque – A film of sticky material containing saliva, food particles, and bacteria that attaches to the tooth surface both above and below the gum line. When left on the tooth it can promote gum disease and tooth decay.
Pontic – An artificial tooth used in a bridge to replace a missing tooth.
Premolar – Another name for bicuspid.
Primary teeth – The first set of teeth lasting until the permanent teeth come in. Also referred to as deciduous teeth or baby teeth.
Prophylaxis – Teeth cleaning – the scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove calculus, plaque, and stains from the crowns of the teeth.
Prosthesis – The technical term for some artificial part. A partial denture is called a removable prosthesis. A bridge is called a fixed prosthesis.
Prosthodontics – The dental specialty dealing with the replacement of missing teeth and other oral structures.
Pulp – The hollow chamber inside the crown of the tooth that contains its nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue – often considered synonymous with the ‘nerve’ of the tooth.
Pulpectomy – Removal of the entire pulp from the canals in the root.
Pulpitis – An often painful inflammation of the dental pulp or nerve.
Pulpotomy – The removal of a portion of the tooth’s pulp.


Quadrant – The dental term for the division of the jaws into four parts. There are four quadrants in the mouth. Two upper and two lower quadrants, both divided at the midline of the mouth.


Rebase – The process of refitting a denture by replacing the base material.
Receded gums – A condition characterized by the abnormal loss of gum tissue due to infection or bone loss.
Reline – The process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture with a base material.
Replantation – The return of a tooth to its socket.
Resorption – The breakdown or dissolving of a hard structure like bone or tooth.
Restoration – Any material or device used to replace lost tooth structure (filling, inlay/onlay, crown) or to replace a lost tooth or teeth (bridge, dentures, complete or partial).
Retainer – A removable dental appliance, usually used in orthodontics, that maintains space between teeth or holds teeth in a fixed position until the bone solidifies around them. Also a technical term for bridge anchor or abutment.
Retrograde filling – A method of sealing the root canal by preparing and filling it from the root tip, generally done at the completion of an apicoectomy.
Root – The part of the tooth below the crown, normally encased in the jawbone. It is made up of dentin, includes the root canal, and is covered by cementum.
Root canal – The hollow part of the tooth’s root. It runs from the tip of the root into the pulp.
Root canal therapy – The process of treating disease or inflammation of the pulp or root canal. This involves removing the pulp and root’s nerve(s) and filling the canal(s) with an appropriate material to permanently seal it.
Root planing – The process of scaling and planing (smoothing) exposed root surfaces above and below the gumline to remove all calculus and plaque.


Scaling – A procedure used to remove plaque, calculus and stains from the teeth.
Sealant – A composite material used to seal the decay-prone pits, fissures, and grooves of teeth to prevent decay.
Six-year molar – The first permanent tooth to erupt, usually between the ages of five and six.
Socket – The hole in the jawbone into which the tooth fits.
Space maintainer – A dental appliance that fills the space of a lost tooth or teeth and prevents the other teeth from moving into the space.
Stainless steel crown – A pre-made metal crown, shaped like a tooth, that is used to temporarily cover a seriously decayed or broken down tooth. Used most often on children’s teeth.
Subgingival scaling – The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth below the gum line.
Supragingival scaling – The removal of calculus and plaque found on the tooth above the gum line.
Systemic – Relating to the whole body.


Tartar – See”Calculus”
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) – The connecting hinge mechanism between the upper jaw and the base of the skull – the jaw joint.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome – The problems associated with TMJ, usually involving pain or discomfort in the joints and ligaments that attach the lower jaw to the skull or in the muscles used for chewing.
Third molar – The last of the three permanent molar teeth, also called wisdom teeth. There are four third molars, two in the lower jaw and two in the upper jaw, one on each side. Some people are born without third molars, and not everyone that has wisdom teeth has four of them.
Tooth Numbering – standardized system for referring to specific teeth.
Torus – A bony elevation or protuberance of normal bone. Usual locations are the middle of the roof of the mouth and on the tongue-side of the lower jaw bone.
Trigeminal Division Block Anesthesia – A form of local anesthesia that is an injection of medication that helps relieve facial pain.
Trismus – A sustained spasm of the jaw muscles.


Veneer – An artificial filling material, usually plastic, composite, or porcelain, that is used to provide an aesthetic covering over the visible surface of a tooth. Most often used on front teeth.


Whitening – Causing the teeth to appear brighter by applying certain medicaments. Can be done at home. Not a permanent treatment, it lasts for six to twelve months, and is easily maintained or retreated.
Wisdom teeth – See “Third Molar”.


Xylitol – a naturally occurring sweetener, that does not cause decay.
X-ray – X-rays were discovered by physicist Wilhem Conrad Roentgen, November 8, 1895. X-ray is derived from the German, X-strahl (“X” designating unknown, and strahl meaning “ray or beam”). Today x-rays are recognized as important diagnostic tools to visualize areas inside bodies / objects that are otherwise undetectable. In dentistry x-rays are used to detect cavities, and also for examining the supporting jawbone and surrounding structures.


Zygomatic Bone – Quadrangular bone on either side of face that forms the cheek prominence.

Dr. Haight graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) from The University of Missouri-Kansas City Dental School in 1993 and has intensive training and experience in multiple aspects of dentistry. Visit Haight Family Dentistry and he will advise you on which sleep sedation dentistry is right for your dental procedure. Contact Haight Family Dentistry in at our Plano or our Melissa, TX by calling 972-527-5555 or request an appointment online.

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