Dental Terminology

Alveolar bone: The bone which surrounds the root of the tooth, holding it in place. Loss of this bone is typically associated with a tooth becoming loose and severe periodontal disease.
 
Amalgam: Dental material also called silver amalgam. It was used to repair cavities. Commonly referred to as "silver fillings", usually consists of a mixture of silver, copper, tin and sometimes zinc particles combined with 50% mercury. Amalgam has caused many controversies and today is not considered safe anymore. It is not used in our practice.
 
Anterior teeth: These are the six teeth located in the front of the mouth, and are used as cutting (biting) surfaces rather than chewing surfaces.
 
Appliance: Any removable dental restoration or orthodontic device.
 
Attachment level:  This is numerical measure of the attachment of periodontal ligament, which is determined generally by combining a pocket depth measurement with a measurement of gingival recession. It really means the height of the gum and bone on your tooth. Attachment level is considered one of the most important measures of periodontal disease progress or treatment success. 
 
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay: Decay in infants and children, most often affecting the upper front teeth, caused by sweetened liquids given and left clinging to the teeth for long periods (e.g. in feeding bottles or pacifiers).

Biofilm: A scientific name for the thick layer of bacteria that has formed and matured either above the gum line or below the gum. Biofilms are similar to thick layers of algae in a pond and contain over 500 types of bacteria, several of which are harmful to your oral health.
 
Bonding:  A technique for binding the restoration to tooth by special adhesives. It is used for repair, or cosmetic improvement of a tooth that involves the application of a high-impact tooth coloured material to the tooth surface.
 
Bridge:  A fixed partial denture which replaces or spans the space where one or more teeth have been lost. It is glued to adjacent teeth and cannot be removed by the patient.
 
Buccal: This is the technical term for the cheek, and is also used to refer to the cheek side of tooth surfaces. Technically, this term is used to describe the cheek surfaces of the posterior teeth, but is also used to describe the cheek surfaces of anterior teeth as well.
 
Calculus:  Also called tartar. A tenacious, hardened material formed by mineralization (calcification) of dental plaque. Calculus is often extremely hard and once formed can only be removed by a dentist/hygienist.
 
Canines:  The pointed conical teeth (also called "eye teeth") located between the incisors and the first molars.
 
Caries:  The technical term for cavities or tooth decay. 
  
Cavity: The space inside a tooth that remains once decay is removed.
 
Cementoenamel junction:  Abbreviated as "CEJ", this is the point at which the enamel of the crown and the cementum of the root come together.
 
Cementum:  Covering the root of the tooth, cementum serves as the anchor point for the fibres that join the tooth to the bony tooth socket. It is the softest part of the tooth structures.
 
Composite:  White filling material for repairing cavities. It is similar to an epoxy resin filled with tooth coloured glass and silica particles.
 
Crown:  Portion of tooth covered by enamel; also refers to a dental restoration shaped like the tooth it covers.
 
Curettage:  The removal of damaged or diseased tissue from the inside of a periodontal pocket or any other infected space in the jawbone.
 
Debridement: Treatment of bacterial infection by removing irritants (bacteria, infected tissue, etc) from the periodontal pocket so as to allow healing of the adjacent tissues. It can also be used in connection with cleaning of a dead root canal space.
 
Deciduous teeth:  Baby teeth.
 
Demineralization: A loss of mineral from tooth enamel just below the surface in a carious lesion. May appear as a small white area on the tooth surface that is softer than the surrounding layer. demineralized enamel will turn into a cavity if left unattended.
 
Dental resin:  A dental material applied to the tooth which is used in cases of severe dentinal hypersensitivity. Typically not used unless all other treatment attempts have failed.
 
Dental varnish:  A hypersensitivity treatment which sometimes contains sodium fluoride. Varnishes are applied to the tooth surface, covering the outer surface of dentin and thus blocking transmission of painful stimuli to the pulp.
 
Dentinal hypersensitivity:  A sharp, sudden painful reaction when the teeth are exposed to hot, cold, chemical, mechanical or osmotic (sweet or salt) stimuli.
 
Dentinal tubules:  Microscopic canals that run from the outside of the dentin to the nerve inside the tooth.
 
Dentin: This is the main tissue that forms the shape of the tooth. Dentin is the material which exists between the pulp and the enamel, and is comprised of a series of dentinal tubules stacked on top of each other. Dentine is living tissue and will respond to stimuli when healthy.
 
Denture:  A partial or complete set of artificial teeth for either the upper or lower jaw.
 
Desensitization:  Blocking the pain stimulus that causes dentinal hypersensitivity.
 
Desquamation:  A peeling of the tissue of the gingiva. In cases of desquamative gingivitis, the tissues may appear smooth and shiny, with patches of bright red and gray. Surface tissue may peel away, exposing a raw, bleeding and extremely painful surface.
 
Dietary sugar:  Sugar occurring in your diet, including sugar found in sweets, fruits, milk and processed foods.
 
Distal:  Referring to the tooth surfaces that face away from the midline of the mouth. Normally pointing backwards.
 
Dorsal surface:  The top surface, typically used when speaking of the tongue, i.e. the dorsal surface of the tongue.
 
Early childhood caries:  see Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
 
Edema:  Swelling that occurs when fluid accumulates in the gingival tissues.
 
Enamel:  Enamel is the hard, mineralized, white material which covers the outside of the tooth.
 
Endotoxins:  Endotoxins are a poisonous substance released from bacteria when they die. Endotoxins can cause tissue destruction directly or trigger an immune response which causes tissue breakdown. 
 
Eruption: When teeth first peek through gums.
 
Explorer:  A probe used to detect tooth decay.
 
Facial:  Describes the surfaces of the anterior teeth towards the lips.
 
Fissures:  Tiny grooves in the chewing surface of the back teeth.
 
Fluoride:  A chemical compound that helps strengthen teeth as well as reduce tooth decay and sensitivity. Fluoride changes the crystal structure of the enamel and makes it more resistant to acids.
 
Fluorosis:  Discoloration of the enamel due to too much fluoride ingestion (greater than one (1) part per million) systemically into the bloodstream, also called enamel mottling.
 
Free gingiva:  The marginal part of the gingival (gums) that can be deflected from the tooth surface. The free gingiva forms a collar around the tooth.
 
Gingival crevicular fluid:  Abbreviated as "GCF", this is the clear fluid which continually flushes out the sulcus. In a state of health, there is little gingival crevicular fluid; however as inflammation increases, the amount of GCF increases also.
 
Gingival margin:  Area of gingiva closest to the tooth surface, commonly referred to as the "gumline"
 
Gingival recession:  The condition which exists when the gingival margin has receded towards the root from the cementoenamel junction (the area where the tooth and root meet).
 
Gingiva: The dense tissue surrounding the teeth and covering the alveolar bone, commonly referred to as "gums".
 
Gingivitis:  Gingivitis generally refers to an inflammation of the gingiva (gums), and ranges in classification from mild to severe. Gingivitis is associated with redness, edema (swelling), bleeding, and tenderness of the gingiva.
 
Hard palate:  The bony front portion of the roof of the mouth.
 
Hypersensitivity: A sharp, sudden painful reaction when the teeth are exposed to hot, cold, chemical, mechanical or osmotic (sweet or salt) stimuli.
 
Immune response: The body's natural defense against bacterial assault, the immune response can also destroy alveolar bone in its attempt to destroy bacteria.
 
Implants: A metal root shaped body made from titanium that is placed into the jaw where teeth are missing. An implant is an artificial root which supports a crown or bridge (several crowns attached to eachother) to replace missing teeth.
 
Incisal edges:  Refers to the biting edges of the anterior teeth.
 
Incisors:  A tooth adapted for cutting or gnawing, located at the front of the mouth. 
 
Interdental:  Between the teeth. 
 
Irrigation: Mechanical method of flushing supra- and subgingival areas with fluid to disrupt debris and plaque.
 
Labial: Referring to the surfaces of the anterior teeth that oppose the inner surface of the lip.
 
Lingual: Refers to the inside surface of the tooth closest to the tongue.
 
Maintenance: Regularly scheduled dental visits designed to maintain the health of the patient. Maintenance visits and therapy are based on the status of the patients oral health.
 
Malocclusion:  Refers to abnormal or malposition relationships of the maxillary teeth to the mandibular teeth. Correction of malocclusion may involve orthodontic treatment.
 
Mandible:  The mandible is the bone that forms the lower jaw. This the largest and only freely movable bone of the face.
 
Maxilla:  The upper jaw, which forms the upper portion of the mouth. The maxilla consists of two bones joined together at the midline of the face. The maxillary sinus is a large hollow space above the molar teeth and to the left and right of your nose.
 
Mesial:  Referring to the tooth surfaces that face towards the midline of the mouth.
 
Molars:  Large, broad, multi-cusped teeth at the back of the mouth.
 
Mouthguard:  A soft fitted device which protects teeth against impact or injury.
 
Mucosa:  The thin, soft, outer pink or red membrane lining the inside of the oral cavity and cheeks.
 
Occlusal trauma:  Occurs when excessive forces are placed on a normal dentition, i.e. grinding and clenching of teeth. If left uncontrolled, occlusal trauma may result in destruction of teeth and rapid attachment and bone loss.
 
Occlusal:  The term identifies the biting surface of the posterior teeth.
 
Occlusion:  Refers to the contact between maxillary and mandibular teeth in all mandibular positions and movement.
 
Orthodontics: An area of dentistry concerned with the correction of malocclusion and the restoration of teeth to proper functioning. Also called "braces".
 
Palatal:  The palatal area is found on the roof of the mouth.
 
Papilla:  Refers to the "v" shaped gum tissue between adjacent teeth.
 
Pellicle:  The first step in plaque formation, the pellicle is a clear, thin covering containing proteins and lipids (fats) found in saliva. Pellicle is formed within seconds after a tooth surface is cleaned.
 
Periodontal:  Of or pertaining to the tissue and bone that support teeth.
 
Periodontal abscess:  Acute infection of the gingival tissues surrounding an individual tooth, typically involving bone loss, pain, bleeding, severe redness and swelling of the affected area.
 
Periodontal disease:  Disease of the supporting structure of the tooth.
 
Periodontal ligament:  The fibers which suspend the tooth in the bony socket. The periodontal ligament is attached at one end to the cementum, and at the other end to the alveolar bone.
 
Periodontal probe:  An instrument with a round or small ball shaped tip used to measure pocket depth of gingival pockets around your tooth.
 
Periodontitis:  An infection and inflammation of the gum and bone around the tooth. Periodontal disease results in destruction of alveolar bone and eventual loss of teeth.
 
Plaque:  A colorless, sticky film of bacteria in a protein matrix that constantly forms on the teeth. The main factor in causing dental caries and periodontal disease when allowed to remain over a period of time.
 
Plaque attached:  Bacterial plaque which is attached to hard tooth surfaces and can be removed only by mechanical means (i.e. instrumentation, oral hygiene aids such as toothbrushes, floss, etc,).
 
Plaque loosely adherent:  Free floating bacterial plaque found on the surface of supragingival and subgingival plaque; contains most of the disease causing bacteria, and can easily be flushed from subgingival area with irrigation.
 
Polishing:  A dental procedure that removes stain, plaque and acquired pellicle by using an abrasive polishing paste in a rubber cup attached to a slow-speed handpiece or air-powder polisher.
 
Posterior teeth:  This refers to the premolar and molar teeth. The posterior teeth are those used for grinding food.
 
Premolars:  Two-cusped teeth immediately in front of molars.
 
Prophylaxis:  Preventive dental office procedure involving removal of hard and soft deposits from the exposed surfaces of the dentition.
 
Proximal:  Proximal surfaces are the surfaces of adjacent teeth. 

Pulp:  Pulp is the living part of the tooth, located inside the dentin. Pulp contains the nerve tissue and blood vessels which supply nutrients to the tooth.
 
Radiographic:  Referring to x-rays.
 
Remineralization:  Redeposition or replacement of the tooth's minerals into a demineralized (previously decayed) lesion. This reverses the decay process, and is enhanced by the presence of topical fluoride.
 
Restorations: Any replacement for lost tooth structure or teeth; for example, bridges, fillings, crowns and implants.
 
Root canal treatment: A treatment in which diseased tissue from the pulp-filled space in the root of the tooth is removed and the resulting cavity is filled with an inert material.
 
Scaling:  Professional removal of hard deposits from the teeth, especially the spaces below the gum.
 
Sealant:  Used to prevent caries (tooth decay), sealants are a plastic liquid which is placed on the top surfaces of posterior teeth. The sealant hardens into place, forming a shallow surface that is easily cleaned with a toothbrush.
 
Sloughing:  A condition in which the gingival tissue deadens and peels away from the living tissue.
 
Soft palate:  The back tissue portion of the roof of the mouth.
 
Stain:  Extrinsic stain refers to tooth stain located on the outside of the tooth surface originating from external substances such as tobacco, coffee, tea or food. This stain can often be removed by polishing the teeth with an abrasive prophylaxis paste. Intrinsic stain refers to tooth stain located within the tooth. It may originate from the ingestion of certain materials or chemical substances during tooth development. This stain is permanent and cannot be removed by polishing. Tooth bleaching may alter the stain.
 
Subgingival:  The moat-like area below the gingival margin which surrounds the tooth.
 
Sulcus: A space or trough lined by mucous membrane (e.g. gingival sulcus).
 
Supragingival:  The area above the gingival margin.
 
Teething: The effects of baby teeth pushing through gums.
 
Temporomandibular Joint:  Also abbreviated as "TMJ", this is the "hinge" between the mandible and the skull.
 
Topical:  Applied directly to an infected area for treatment.

Ultrasonic scaling: Removal of toxic biofilm in the space below the gum line by the use of an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates at 50 000 cycles per second and sprays water with high energy. This process kills bacteria that are responsable for periodontal disease and introduces ne oxygen into areas below the gum.
 
Veneers:  Thin, custom-made shells crafted of tooth-colored materials designed to cover the front side of teeth in order to improve appearance.
 
Ventral surface:  The underside, used when speaking of the tongue; thus the ventral surface of the tongue is the underside of the tongue.