Dentists and their staff may seem to be speaking a different language with all the “dental lingo” they use when providing care for their dental patients. Some patients are familiar with dental terminology and abbreviations that their dentists and hygienists use. Other patients aren’t.
In some cases, the professional dental terms dental providers use are not the same as commonly used terms, thereby confusing for patients. To help our patients understand their conditions and dental procedures better, here at Green Hills Dentistry we’ve provided a “dental words dictionary” of common dental procedures and terms ― and their equivalent informal terms patients are more likely to know.
Here are some frequently-used clinical dental terms along with their common names and definitions:
An abscess is a severe, enclosed infection. When bacteria cause deep decay in a tooth, they can travel through the pulp in the center of the tooth and into the supporting bone, causing infection. Your body’s response to this infection is to send white blood cells to the area to fight off the bacteria. The accumulation of dead white blood cells and bacteria in this battlefield is what makes up pus, the hallmark of an abscess. As the pressure from the accumulating pus puts pressure on the surrounding bone, it becomes a painful, pus-filled swelling known as an abscess.
2. Alveolar Osteitis
Alveolar osteitis is the clinical medical term for dry socket. This is exposed bone in the space where a freshly extracted tooth used to be. Dry socket occurs when a blood clot forms in this socket and is dislodged or breaks down prematurely. The most common cause of an alveolar osteitis is smoking after an extraction.
Dental amalgam is a combination of silver, mercury, copper and tin used in a restoration or filling. Mercury makes up approximately 50 percent of the compound and helps bind the metals together, providing a hard, strong and durable filling. Although these fillings do contain elemental mercury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers amalgam fillings safe for people over 6 years old.
Bicuspids, also called premolars, are transitional teeth between the canines and the molars. They are called bicuspids because they each have two points. Most adults have eight bicuspids. Children don’t have bicuspids. Instead, four bicuspids replace four primary molars, and four bicuspids are new permanent teeth.
Bleaching refers to teeth whitening. There are various teeth whitening options to help eliminate external stains from tea, coffee, wine, tobacco and other foods and drinks. Some teeth bleaching or whitening procedures include the use of whitening toothpaste or in-office or at-home bleaching. Bleaching agents like carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide are used most in the bleaching process.
Bonding is when the dentist applies a tooth-colored composite resin to repair a chipped, decayed, discolored or fractured tooth.
Bruxism is the professional term for teeth grinding. Since grinding usually occurs while people sleep, they often unaware they grind their teeth. But, a sore jaw or constant, dull headache upon waking is a telltale sign of bruxism.
8. Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome is a painful oral condition affecting the gums, tongue, inside of cheeks, lips and roof of the mouth. It could be related to sensory and taste nerve problems. The cause could be due to dry mouth, nutritional deficiencies, food allergies or certain medications.
A physical, biological, chemical or other substance is carcinogenic if it causes cancer.
Caries is the proper dental term for tooth decay or cavities. These are permanently damaged areas in your teeth’s hard surface that develop into tiny holes or openings. Tooth decay is one of the most widespread and persistent preventable diseases today. Many factors that cause caries include frequent snacking, not cleaning your teeth well and sipping sugary drinks. When consuming certain foods, bacteria on your teeth break the food down, producing acids that can severely damage your tooth’s hard tissues, forming cavities or dental caries. Cavities are a chronic disease most common in kids, being five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
If something is cariogenic, that means it promotes or produces the development of tooth decay.
12. Deciduous Teeth
Deciduous teeth have many common names including temporary teeth, primary teeth, milk teeth and baby teeth. These are the first 20 teeth in a child’s development. Milk teeth develop within the embryonic development stage and start coming in between the ages of six and 12 months. Most children’s baby teeth will have come in by 33 months.
13. Dental Appliance
A dental or oral appliance can serve many different purposes, but the term usually refers to a removable mouthguard or device. They can be protective for teeth and serve for concussion prevention as a soft sports guard, or serve to open a narrow airway when used to manage obstructive sleep apnea or snoring. Other appliances can be used to prevent bruxism or grinding, or to monitor for arthiritic changes in the jaw joint. Orthodontists also use appliance therapy to assist in proper growth, development and tooth movement.
14. Dental Implant
Dental implants are also known as artificial tooth roots. These are surgical components that interface with the jaw bone or skull to provide support for replacement teeth such as a bridge or crown. They may also act as an anchor for orthodontics or facial prostheses.
Dentifrice is a classic term for toothpaste. It’s available in paste, gel or powder. Toothpaste with fluoride helps prevent cavities by eliminating plaque and strengthening teeth.
Dentures are a set of artificial teeth. Complete dentures replace all the teeth, while partial dentures replace a section of teeth. You can take dentures out of your mouth and put them back in.
17. Early Childhood Caries
Also called bottle rot, tooth decay in newborns and children often affects the upper front teeth. This decay is usually caused by sugary liquids (including milk or formula) allowed to sit on teeth for a long time when a baby falls asleep with bottle in it’s mouth.
18. Endodontic Procedure
An endodontic procedure, or root canal, treats the inside of your tooth. This treatment is needed when the soft tissue inside the root canal, called the pulp, becomes infected or inflamed. The infection or inflammation can have numerous causes, such as deep decay, chipped or cracked teeth, or repeated dental procedures on the tooth. If left untreated, the pulp infection or inflammation can be painful and cause an abscess.
When a new tooth comes in, dentists say it’s erupting. In most people, all their permanent teeth have erupted by age 21.
Fluorosis is brown or white spots on the enamel of permanent teeth due to consuming too much fluoride as a child. It doesn’t develop after all your teeth have erupted.
Gingivitis is inflamed gum tissue. Dental plaque is usually the cause of gum inflammation. Mild gingivitis doesn’t cause a lot of pain ― or none at all. You may not even notice you have it, though if you have bleeding when you brush your teeth or floss, it may indicate that you have gingivitis. Gingivitis is reversible, but if left untreated gingivitis can become severe and develop into periodontitis, leading to tooth loss.
22. Gum Recession
Gum recession is where your gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back or wears away, exposing more of your tooth or its root.
Halitosis is the clinical term for bad breath. Food breakdown typically causes foul-smelling breath, though other culprits include dry mouth, poor dental hygiene and infection. Using tobacco or dieting can also cause bad breath, as can having certain diseases. Persistent bad taste in the mouth or bad breath might be an indication of periodontal disease.
An impression is a form of the teeth usually used for creating stone models of your teeth.
Incisors are your front teeth. Most people have eight incisor teeth — four in the upper jaw and four in the lower. These look like small chisels with sharp edges, and they help you bite into your food.
Malocclusion refers to teeth that aren’t properly aligned, also called a misaligned bite. Occlusion is the alignment of your teeth and how your lower and upper teeth fit together when you close your mouth or bite. Your upper teeth should fit over your lower teeth slightly. The points of your molars should fit the opposite molar’s grooves.
The mandible is the bone forming your lower jaw. The lower jaw is the strongest, largest and lowest bone in your face.
The maxilla is the bottom part of your skull that forms the upper jaw.
Molars are the flat, large teeth in the back of your mouth. They’re used mainly for grinding food while you chew.
30. Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide, most commonly known as laughing gas, is an effective and safe sedative agent that’s combined with oxygen. You inhale it through a small mask that goes over your nose to help make you feel more relaxed. It doesn’t put you to sleep. You can still hear and respond to the dentist. The effects will wear off once you take the mask off.
31. Occlusal Disease
Occlusal disease simply refers to bite problems. Your teeth can become damaged if they aren’t aligned properly. Every time they meet, there are forces applied to your teeth. But, when there are bite discrepancies, this imbalance can lead to issues with your jaw, muscles, teeth or a combination of all three.
32. Occlusal Surface
The occlusal surface is the tooth surface you use to grind or chew.
Oral pertains to the mouth.
34. Oral Bacteria
Your mouth contains several types of oral bacteria, both bad and good organisms. Some mouth bacteria perform essential functions helping to keep your mouth healthy. Other bacteria, unfortunately, can damage your teeth. Two particularly damaging bacteria strains in the mouth are lactobacilli and Streptococcus mutans. When allowed to flourish, they can produce acid that leads to tooth decay.
35. Oral Rinse
An oral rinse or mouthwash often freshens breath, but some mouth rinses can reduce plaque, control or prevent tooth decay, reduce or prevent gingivitis or reduce tartar.
Refers to how much your upper teeth overlap your lower teeth. Overjet is how far your upper teeth are in front of your lower teeth.
37. Periodontal Disease
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is an infection of bone supporting your teeth. It’s usually due to poor brushing and flossing habits. Periodontal disease is manageable but not curable. In advanced stages, it can lead to bleeding and sore gums, tooth loss and painful chewing problems.
Plaque is a sticky, soft film containing millions of bacteria that build up on your teeth. It can cause gum disease and tooth decay if you don’t remove it regularly by brushing and flossing your teeth.
Dental prophylaxis is a clinical term for a professional cleaning appointment. It thoroughly cleans your teeth, helping your teeth, mouth and gums stay in good health. It also helps prevent or stop the progression of gum disease.
Radiograph is another term for x-ray. Dental x-rays are an essential part of dental care. They, along with an oral exam, help your dentist obtain a more thorough view of what’s occurring in your mouth. They allow an inside view of your teeth and bones — the hard tissues — as well as the soft tissues surrounding your jawbones and teeth.
Restoration is the official dental term for fillings. Fillings restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its regular shape and function. When performing a restoration, the dentist removes the decayed tooth matter, cleans the affected area and fills the cavity area with a filling material.
Saliva, commonly called spit, is a clear liquid made in your mouth all day long. It plays a substantial role in maintaining oral health.
A sealant is a plastic, thin coating that’s painted on your teeth’s chewing surfaces, typically on your molars and premolars in the back to prevent tooth decay.
44. Sucsidaneous Teeth
Also know as Permanent Teeth.As children grow, their baby teeth fall out, and permanent teeth replace them. Most adults have 32 permanent teeth. The first to come in are new molars in the back that don’t replace existing primary teeth. These are often called six-year molars since they usually erupt when a child is about 6 years old.
When plaque is allowed to stay on your teeth, it can harden and turn into tartar or Calculus which forms along your gum line. Once it turns into tartar, you can’t remove it with brushing. Only the dentist can remove it. It can promote gingivitis.
46. Temporomandibular Joint Pain
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge mechanism that connects between the temporal bone at the base of the skull and the mandible, or lower jaw. Abnormal functioning of the TMJ can cause TMJ pain or jaw pain.
47. Third Molars
Third molars are commonly called wisdom teeth. Many individuals will develop a third molar tooth in all quadrants of their mouth — upper right, upper left, lower right and lower left. They typically erupt after a person turns 17 years old.
48. Tooth Extraction
Removing a decayed or broken tooth from the bone’s socket is called tooth extraction. When there’s so much damage to a tooth that a repair isn’t feasible, dentists have to extract the tooth. A tooth extraction is a fairly quick outpatient procedure using either general, local or intravenous anesthesia.
An underbite, also called prognathism, Class III malocclusion or bulldog teeth, is a condition where your lower jaw and teeth protrude in front of your upper teeth — giving you a “bulldog” appearance.
Xerostomia is the clinical name for dry mouth, a condition where you don’t have enough saliva to maintain moisture in your mouth. Infections and tooth decay can develop in your mouth when there’s not enough saliva.
Contact Green Hills Dentistry
The above covers 50 of the common dental terms you might come across when you visit us here at Green Hills Dentistry. And, as always, if there is a word or phrase you don’t understand, be sure to ask us about it.
If you have questions concerning your oral health or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Forgosh for an exam, cleaning or both, contact Green Hills Dentistry.