Important Terminology


Amalgam – Material made from mercury and other alloy mixtures used to restore a drilled portion of a tooth. 

Anesthesia – Medications used to relieve pain. 

Anterior teeth – Front teeth. Also called incisors and cuspids. 

Arch – The upper or lower jaw.


Baby bottle tooth decay – Caused by sugary substances in breast milk and some juices, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby’s mouth. 

Bicuspids -A premolar tooth; tooth with two cusps, which are pointed or rounded eminences on or near the masticating surface of a tooth. 

Bitewings – X-rays that help a dentist diagnose cavities. 

Bonding – Application of tooth-colored resin materials to the surface of the teeth. 

Bridge – A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or otherwise attached to the abutment teeth or implant replacements. 

Bruxism – Teeth grinding.


Calculus – A hard deposit of mineralized substance adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth or prosthetic devices. 

Canal – The narrow chamber inside the tooth’s root. 

Canines – Also called cuspids. 

Canker sore – One that occurs on the delicate tissues inside your mouth. A canker sore is usually light-colored at its base and can have a red exterior border. 

Caries – A commonly used term for tooth decay, or cavities. 

Cold sore – Usually occurs on the outside of the mouth, usually on or near the nose or lips. A cold sore is contagious because it is caused by the herpes simplex virus, and it is usually painful and filled with fluid. 

Composite filling – Tooth-colored restorations, also known as resin fillings. 

Composite resin – A tooth-colored resin combined with silica or porcelain and used as a restoration material. 

Contouring – The process of reshaping teeth. 

Crown – An artificial tooth replacement that restores missing tooth structure by surrounding the remaining coronal tooth structure. It is also placed on a dental implant. 

Cusps – The pointed parts on top of the back teeth’s chewing surface. 

Cuspids – Front teeth that typically have a protruding edge.


Dentin – The tooth layer underneath the enamel. 

Denture – A removable set of teeth.


Endodontics – A form of dentistry that addresses problems affecting the tooth’s root or nerve.


Fluoride – A harmless over-exposure to fluoride resulting in tooth discoloration. 

Fluorosis – A harmless over-exposure to fluoride and resulting sometimes in tooth discoloration.


Gingiva – Another word for gum tissue. 

Gingivitis – A minor disease of the gums caused by plaque. 

Gum disease – An infection of the gum tissues. Also called periodontal disease.


Impacted teeth – A condition in which a tooth fails to erupt or only partially erupts. 

Implant – A permanent appliance used to replace a missing tooth. 

Incisor – Front teeth with cutting edges; located in the center or on the sides near the front. 

Inlay – An artificial filling made of various materials, including porcelain, resin, or gold.


Laminate veneer – A shell that is bonded to the enamel of a front tooth. The shell is usually thin and made from porcelain resin.


Malocclusion – Bad bite relationship. 

Mandible – The lower jaw. 

Maxilla – The upper jaw. 

Molar – Usually the largest teeth, near the rear of the mouth. Molars have large chewing surfaces.


Neuromuscular Dentistry – Addresses more than the aches and pains felt in and around the neck and head that are associated with your teeth and jaw.


Onlay – A filling designed to protect the chewing surface of a tooth. 

Orthodontics – A field of dentistry that deals with tooth and jaw alignment. 

Overdenture – A non-fixed dental appliance applied to a small number of natural teeth or implants.


Palate – Roof of the mouth. 

Partial denture – A removable appliance that replaces missing teeth. 

Pediatric Dentistry – A field of dentistry that deals with children’s teeth 

Perio pocket – An opening formed by receding gums. 

Periodontal disease – Infection of the gum tissues. Also called gum disease. 

Periodontist – A dentist who treats diseases of the gums. 

Permanent teeth – The teeth that erupt after primary teeth. Also called adult teeth. 

Plaque – A sticky, colorless substance that covers the teeth after sleep or periods between brushing. 

Posterior teeth – The bicuspid and molars. Also called the back teeth. 

Primary teeth – A person’s first set of teeth. Also called baby teeth or temporary teeth. 

Prophylaxis – The act of cleaning the teeth. 

Prosthodontics – The field of dentistry that deals with artificial dental appliances. 

Pulp – The inner tissues of the tooth containing blood, nerves and connective tissue.


Receding gum – A condition in which the gums separate from the tooth, allowing bacteria and other substances to attack the tooth’s enamel and surrounding bone. 

Resin filling – An artificial filling used to restore teeth. Also called a composite filling. 

Root canal – A procedure in which a tooth’s nerve is removed and an inner canal cleansed and later filled. 

Root planing – Scraping or cleansing of teeth to remove heavy buildup of tartar below the gum line.


Sealant – A synthetic material placed on the tooth’s surface that protects the enamel and chewing surfaces.


TMJ – Temporomandibular joint disorder. Health problems related to the jaw joint just in front of the ear. 

Tarter – A hardened substance (also called calculus) that sticks to the tooth’s surface.


Veneer – A laminate applied or bonded to the tooth.

Whitening – A process that employs special bleaching agents for restoring the color of teeth. 

Wisdom tooth – Third set of molars that erupt last in adolescence.

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