Dental Terminology

Commonly used dental terms

Abscess Acute or chronic, localized inflammation, with a collection of pus, associated with tissue destruction and, frequently, swelling, usually secondary to infection.

Abutment A tooth or implant used to support a prosthesis.

Alveoplasty Surgical procedure for recontouring alveolar structures, usually in preparation for a prosthesis.

Amalgam An alloy used in dental restorations.

Anterior Refers to the teeth in the forward part of the mouth incisors and canines.

Bitewing Interproximal view radiograph of the coronal portion of the tooth.

Bridge A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth on a framework that may be removed by the patient.

Bruxism The parafunctional grinding of the teeth

Calculus Hard deposit of mineralized material adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth.

Canal A narrow tubular passage or channel; space inside the root portion of a tooth containing pulp tissue.

Caries Commonly used term for tooth decay.

Cavity Decay in tooth caused by caries

Composite A dental restorative material made up of disparate or separate parts.

Crown Part of the tooth that is covered with enamel and normally projects beyond the gingival margin; artificial replacement is called by the same name.

Crown lengthening A surgical procedure exposing more tooth for restorative purposes by apically positioning the gingival margin and/or removing supporting bone.

Curettage   Scraping or cleaning the walls of a cavity or gingival pocket.

Debridement Removal of below the gum line and/or above the gum line plaque and calculus, which obstructs the ability to perform an evaluation.

Decay The lay term of carious lesions in a tooth.

Dental prophylaxis Scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove plaque, calculus, and stains from the crown of the tooth.

Denture An artificial substitute for natural teeth and adjacent tissues.

Distal Toward the back of the dental arch (or away from the midline).

Dry Socket Localized inflammation of the tooth socket following extraction due to infection or loss of blood clot.

Enamel Hard calcified tissue covering the outer portion of a tooth.

Endodontist A dental specialist who limits his/her practice to treating disease and injuries of the pulp and surrounding portion of the root of teeth.  

Examination (Oral Evaluation) A dentist thoroughly evaluates the state of health of the patient including a thorough examination of the hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity and contiguous structures.  This includes but is not limited to the use of diagnostic information acquired through interpretation of appropriate dental radiographs and may also include pulp vitality tests, transillumination, study models and laboratory tests, when indicated.

Extraction Removal of a tooth or tooth parts.

Filling A lay term used for the restoring of lost tooth structure by using material such as metal, alloy, plastic or porcelain.

Frenum Muscle fibers covered by a mucous membrane that attaches the cheek, lips, and/or tongue to associated dental mucosa.

Gingiva Soft tissue (gum tissue) overlaying the crowns of un-erupted teeth and encircling the necks of those that have erupted.

Gingivitis Inflammation of gingival (gum) tissue without loss of connective tissue.

Graft A piece of tissue or synthetic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.

Immediate Denture Prosthesis constructed for placement immediately after removal of remaining natural teeth.

Impacted Tooth An un-erupted or partially erupted tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue so that complete eruption is unlikely.

Implant Material inserted or grafted into tissue.

Inlay A dental restoration made outside the mouth to correspond to the prepared tooth, which is then cemented to the tooth.

Interproximal Between the adjoining surfaces of adjacent teeth in the same arch.

Lingual Pertaining to or around the tongue; surface of the tooth directed toward the tongue.

Maintenance, Periodontal therapy for preserving the state of health of the periodontium.

Mandible Lower jaw

Maxilla Upper jaw

Mesial Toward the midline of the dental arch.

Metals, Classification of The noble metal classification system has been adopted as a precise method of reporting various alloys used in dentistry.  Alloys are defined on the basis of the percentage of metal content:


high noble – Gold, Palladium and/or Platinum –  >= 60%


titanium and titanium alloys – Titanium  – > 85%


noble –  Gold, Palladium, and/or Platinum – >= 25%


predominately base – Gold, Palladium, and/or Platinum – < 25%

Molar Teeth posterior to the bicuspids on either side of the jaw; grinding teeth having large crowns and broad chewing surfaces.  

Occlusal Pertaining to the biting or chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth.

Oral and Maxillo-Facial Surgeon A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities, defects and esthetic aspects of the oral and maxillofacial regions.

Orthodontist A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the interception and treatment of malocclusion (improper alignment) of the teeth and their surrounding structures.

Osseous Bony

Palliative Action that relieves pain but is not curative.

Panoramic Radiograph A radiograph on which the upper and lower jaw is depicted on a single film.

Partial Denture Usually refers to a prosthetic device that replaces missing teeth.

Pediatric Dentist A dental specialist whose practice is limited to treatment of children from birth through adolescence; formerly known as a Pedodontist.

Periapical The area surrounding the end of the tooth root.

Periodontist A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.

Periodontitis Inflammation and loss of the connective tissue of the supporting or surrounding structure of teeth with loss of attachment.

Plaque A soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth composed largely of bacteria.

Prophylaxis Scaling and polishing procedure performed to remove plaque, calculus and stains from the crown of teeth.

Prosthodontist A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the restoration of natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth with artificial substitutes.

Pulpotomy The removal of the crown portion of the pulp.

Quadrant One of four equal sections into which the dental arches can be divided.

Radiograph X-ray

Reline Process of resurfacing the tissue side of a denture with new base material.

Root The anatomic portion the tooth that is located in the socket.

Root Canal Therapy The treatment of disease and injuries of the pulp and associated portions surrounding the root of a tooth.

Root Planning A procedure designed to remove microbial flora, bacterial toxins, calculus and diseased portion on the root surfaces and in the pocket.

Scaling Removal of plaque, calculus, and stain from teeth.

Sealant A material that is bonded to a tooth to seal pits, fissures, and enamel defects to prevent caries (decay).

Suture Stitch used to repair an incision or wound.

Temporomandibular Joint The connecting hinge mechanism between the base of the skull and the lower jaw.

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction problems with the jaw joint.

Unerupted Tooth/teeth that have not penetrated into the oral cavity.

Unilateral One-sided

Veneer In the construction of crowns, a layer of tooth-colored material,  attached to the surface by fusion, cementation, or mechanical retention; also refers to a restoration that is bonded to the facial surface of a tooth.


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