Glossary of dental terms

Here is a list of dental terms and their accompanying descriptions which have been used in this guide.

A

Abscess

A pus filled infection of a tooth or the soft tissues of the gum. This is caused by tooth decay or some form of trauma to the tooth.

Alveolar bone

Bone structure which acts as an anchor for the teeth.

Amalgam

Silver coloured material which consists of a mixture of metals including mercury which is used to fill a decayed tooth.

Apicoectomy

A surgical procedure to remove the top part of a root of a tooth. This is performed in cases of repeated infections or after root canal treatment.

B

Bonding

This refers to the process of using dental materials such as synthetic resins or cement to repair a damaged tooth. These natural coloured materials are also used for cosmetic purposes, e.g. improve the appearance of a cracked tooth.

Brace

A specialist orthodontic device which is used to straighten misaligned or crooked teeth: there are two types of braces: fixed and removable.

Bridge

This is a device which consists of a false tooth (pontic) and two crowns which acts as a replacement for a missing tooth.

Bruxism

The medical name for teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching which causes a range of problems such as headaches, jaw disorders, earache and badly worn teeth: often caused by stress and other factors.

C

Calculus

Another name for tartar: this is a hardened residue on the teeth caused by the build-up of plaque.

Canine

This is a long, sharp tooth near the front of the mouth. There are 2 canines in the upper jaw and 2 canines in the lower jaw.

Caries

The dental name for tooth decay: a hole or cavity in the surface of the enamel which is caused by bacteria, plaque and acids from broken down food.

Cavity

A hole in the surface of a tooth caused by tooth decay: also known as dental caries.

Crown

Also known as a cap: this is a customised, oval shaped covering made from porcelain which fits over a damaged tooth.

Curing light

A special lamp which emits a blue light that hardens dental materials such as composite resin on the surface of a tooth: it is also used to harden bonding material, used to secure a brace in position.

D

Decay

The dental name for destruction of a tooth caused by bacteria and plaque: this starts on the surface of the tooth and gradually spreads down inside the tooth. This can result in root canal infections and abscesses.

Dentin

The soft middle layer of the tooth between the enamel and the pulp: it contains small tubules which are sensitive to hot and cold foods/drinks.

Dry mouth

A condition caused by a reduction of the flow of saliva in the mouth: the medical name is xerostomia. This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Dry socket

A painful condition which occurs following the removal of a tooth: the extraction of a tooth leaves a blood clot in the socket which aids with healing; but if this is dislodged it reveals nerves and blood vessels which are acutely painful.

E

Enamel

The hard white outer surface of a tooth which is made from calcium and acts as a protective layer.

Endodontist

A dentist who specialises in root canal treatment.

Erosion

The enamel of a tooth is gradually worn away by constant exposure to acids found in fizzy drinks and certain foods.

F

Filling

A material used to seal the hole within a tooth caused by tooth decay. There are 2 types of filling - amalgam and white composite.

Fluoride

A mineral added to water and toothpaste which protects the teeth against decay.

G

General anaesthetic

A medication administered during surgery which renders the patient unconscious throughout.

Gingivitis

The early and milder form of gum disease which presents as red, swollen gums which bleed when brushed. If left untreated this turns into the more serious periodontitis.

Gum disease

An infection of the gums caused by bacteria and plaque which builds up on the teeth and affects the gums as well.

H

Halitosis

The medical term for bad breath: often caused by tooth decay and gum disease.

I

Impacted tooth

A tooth which has not broken through properly and/or is lying at an angle. A particular problem with wisdom teeth.

Implant

A thin, titanium rod which is a replacement for a tooth root: this is inserted into the jaw where it fuses with the bone and acts as an anchor for a crown or bridge.

Incisor

This is a wedge shaped front tooth which is used for biting and chewing. There are 4 incisors in the upper jaw and 4 incisors in the lower jaw.

L

Local anaesthetic

This medication is a form of pain relief which numbs the area to be treated but the patient remains awake throughout.

M

Malocclusion

The dental term for upper and lower teeth which are crooked or out of position: they fail to meet properly when chewing or speaking.

Mandible

The medical name for the lower jaw.

Maxilla

The medical name for the upper jaw.

Molar

This is a large, chunky, flat topped tooth which sits at the back of the mouth: used to grind food. There are 6 molars in both the upper and lower jaw.

O

Oral surgeon

A dental specialist who treats disease, injuries and congenital defects of the mouth, face and neck.

Orthodontist

A dentist who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of development disorders of the mouth: this includes the correction of misaligned teeth and malocclusion.

P

Periodontist

This dentist specialises in the treatment and prevention of gum disease. They can also insert dental implants.

Periodontitis

Serious form of gum disease which has progressed from the early stage gingivitis: it causes the gums to pull away from the teeth leaving pockets which become infected, increasing the severity of this condition. The gums and surrounding bone become unstable which results in loose teeth and eventual loss.

Plaque

A sticky film which builds up on the surface of the teeth which is caused by food particles and bacteria: if not removed it eventual hardens, leading to tartar and tooth decay.

Pre-molars

Flat, chisel shaped teeth near the back of the mouth, just in front of the molars. There are 4 pre-molars in the upper jaw and 4 pre-molars in the lower jaw.

Pulp

The centre of a tooth which is made from connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves: it continues down to the roots via canals until it reaches the tip of these roots.

R

Retainer

An orthodontic device which is worn after the teeth have been straightened to keep them in their correct position. This is removable or secured permanently inside the mouth.

Root

The bottom part of a tooth which anchors it within the jaw.

Root canal

A channel within the root of a tooth which contains the pulp and accessory canals: a canal can become infected as a result of bacteria which will cause the tooth to die if left untreated. Root canal treatment is the only solution.

S

Sealant

A transparent coating which is applied to the biting surface of a tooth as a form of protection: this guards it against decay.

T

Tartar

Hardened plaque on a tooth which consists of minerals from saliva and has a yellowish appearance: this will affect the surrounding gum tissue if left unchecked leading to gingivitis.

Temporomandibular joint

The medical name for the ball and socket joint which connects the upper and lower jaws together: it acts as a hinge allowing the jaws to move freely. It can be affected by a range of conditions or disorders.

Tooth whitening

A popular cosmetic dental procedure where chemicals or a laser is used to whiten the teeth.

Trench mouth

A severe gum infection which causes ulcers to form on the gums, leading to pain and bad breath.

V

Veneer

Used within cosmetic dentistry to improve the appearance of a tooth: it is a natural coloured shell, made from porcelain which is fitted on the front of a tooth. It is used to treat cracked, chipped or badly stained teeth.

W

Wisdom teeth

These are a type of molar which are the last teeth to appear although not every adult will develop wisdom teeth: there are four of these teeth which erupt between the ages of 18 to 25: these often cause problems such as failing to erupt properly which is known as an impacted wisdom tooth.

1