Dental vocabulary

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One of the fun parts of learning dental/medical terminology is making difficult, long, impressive-looking words understandable. By learning what the word parts mean, it is much easier to understand what a brand new word is, even if you have never seen or heard it before. Most medical terms originated in either Greek or Latin, so when someone says, "It's Greek to me" . . . it really is!

abrasion: loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing technique, or Bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth).

abscess: an infection of a tooth, soft tissue or bone

abutment: tooth or teeth that support a fixed or removable bridge

adhesive dentistry: contemporary term for dental restorations that involve "bonding" of tooth colored composite resin or porcelain fillings to natural teeth

air abrasion: removal of tooth decay by blasting a tooth with air and abrasive particles, a relatively new technology that may avoid the need for anesthetic

allergy: unfavorable systemic response to a foreign substance or drug

alveolar bone: the jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth

amalgam: a most common filling material, also known as "silver fillings", containing mercury (app 50%), silver, tin, copper and zinc commonly used for fillings in past years (white "composite" fillings are preferred by most patients.

analgesia: a state of pain relief; an agent lessening pain

anesthesia: partial or complete elimination of pain sensation; numbing a tooth is an example of local anesthesia; general anesthesia produces partial or complete unconsciousness

anterior teeth: the six upper or six lower front teeth (canines, laterals & central incisors)

antibiotic: a drug that stops or slows the growth of bacteria

ANUG: an acronym for Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis, commonly known as trench mouth or Vincent's disease, aggravated by stress and/or smoking

apex: the tip of the root of a tooth

apicoectomy: surgical removal of an infected root tip to treat a dead tooth

arch : describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth

attrition: loss of structure due to natural wear

base: cement placed under a dental restoration to insulate the pulp (nerve chamber)

bicuspid or pre-molar: transitional teeth behind the cuspids (canines)

bifurcation (trifurcation): exposure of the juncture of two (three) roots in posterior teeth

biopsy: removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination

bite wings: caries (decay) detection x-rays

bite: relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure (occlusion)

black hairy tongue: elongated papillae on the tongue, promoting the growth of more microorganisms

bleaching: chemical or laser treatment of natural teeth for whitening effect

block injection: anesthesia of a nerve trunk that covers a large area of the jaw; a mandibular block injection produce numbness of the lower jaw, teeth, half the tongue

bonding: adhesive dental restoration technique; a tooth-colored composite resin to repair and/or change the color or shape of a tooth

bone resorption: decrease in bone supporting the roots of teeth; a common result of periodontal (gum disease), can result in tooth loss if left untreated.

braces: devices used by orthodontists to gradually reposition teeth to a more favorable alignment

bridge: stationary dental prosthesis (appliance) fixed to teeth adjacent to a space; replaces one or more missing teeth, cemented or bonded to supporting teeth or implants adjacent to the space

bruxism: grinding or gnashing of the teeth, most commonly while the patient is asleep

bruxomania: persistent "nervous" grinding of the teeth while the patient is awake

calcium: chemical element needed for healthy teeth, bones and nerves

calculus: hard residue that forms on the teeth composed of old plaque and food particles commonly known as "tarter"

calculus: hard residue, commonly known as "tarter," that forms on teeth due to inadequate plaque control, often stained yellow or brown

canker sore: mouth sore appearing whitish, often with a red halo, of ten to fourteen day duration

canker sore: mouth sore appearing whitish, often with a red halo, of ten to fourteen day duration

cantilever bridge: fixed bridge that attaches to adjacent teeth only on one end

cap: common term for dental crown

caries: tooth decay or "cavities"

cast or model: reproduction of oral structures made by pouring plaster or stone into a mold

Cavitron: dental tool that uses high frequency ultrasonic waves to gently clean teeth

cellulitis: soft tissue infection causing extensive, hard swelling, a potentially dangerous condition requiring immediate attention

cementum: hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth

chart: log of dental or medical records

clasp: device that retains a removable partial denture to stationary teeth; can be metal or acrylic (matches teeth and gums)

cleaning: removal of plaque and calculus (tarter) from teeth, generally above the gum line; preventive procedure that is usually done every 6 months (may need to be done more frequently for some individuals)

composite resin: material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles; usually cured with filtered light or chemical catalyst

cosmetic (aesthetic) dentistry: treatments performed to enhance appearance; not a recognized specialty

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation): Artificial procedures employed by a rescuer after cessation of breathing or heart stoppage

Cross bite: reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth; aka "under bite," as in Class III malocclusuion (prognathic jaw)

crown: (1) the portion of a tooth above the gum line; (2) dental restoration covering all or most of the natural tooth

curettage: removal of diseased tissue from the lining of a periodontal pocket

cusp: mound on posterior teeth that aids in chewing

cuspid or canine: the four "eye teeth"

cyst: a soft or hard tissue sac, hard or filled with fluid

DDS: Doctor of Dental Surgery - equivalent to DMD

decay: destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria

deciduous teeth: commonly called "baby teeth," the first set of (usually) twenty teeth

dental implant: a (usually) titanium cylinder surgically placed in the bone of the upper or lower jaw to provide support for a dental restoration or appliance

dentin: inner layer of tooth structure, immediately under the surface enamel

dentition: the arrangement of natural or artificial teeth in the mouth

denture: removable (partial or complete) set of artificial teeth

denturism: the production of dentures dispensed directly by laboratory technicians

diastema: open space between teeth

DMD: Doctor of Medical Dentistry - equivalent to DDS

enamel: hard tissue covering the portion of tooth above the gum line

endodontist: specialist who treats injuries, diseases and infections of the tooth pulp (nerve chamber)

epidemiology: study of the incidence of disease in a population

eruption: process of teeth protruding through the gums

exfoliate: process of shedding deciduous (baby) teeth

exodontia: practice of dental extractions

explorer: sharp instrument used to detect decay on the surface of teeth

extraction: removal of a tooth

eyeteeth: the four upper and lower canine (cuspid) teeth

facing: tooth colored overlay on the visible portion of a crown; may be acrylic, composite or porcelain

FAGD: Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry

filling: restoration of lost tooth structure with metal, porcelain or resin materials

fistula: channel emanating pus from an infection site; a gum boil

flap surgery: lifting of gum tissue to expose and clean underlying tooth and bone structures

forceps: instrument used for removal of teeth

forensic dentistry: practice of gathering legal evidence for body identification or judicial issues

fossa: valley found on the surface of posterior teeth

freeway space: distance between the upper and lower teeth with the lower jaw in rest position

frenectomy: removal or reshaping of thin muscle tissue that attaches the upper or lower lips to the gum, or the tongue to the floor of the mouth

full denture: removable dental prosthesis (appliance) replacing all upper or lower teeth

full mouth reconstruction: extensive restorations of natural teeth with crowns and or fixed bridges to manage restorative and bite problems.

general anesthesia: controlled state of unconsciousness, accompanied by a partial or complete loss of pain sensation, protective reflexes, and the ability to respond purposefully to physical stimulation or verbal command

geographic tongue: benign changes in the usual color and texture of tongue; does not require treatment

gingiva: gum tissue

gingivectomy: surgical removal of gum tissue

gingivitis: inflammation of gum tissue

GTR: (guided tissue regeneration) a new technique for replacing bone tissue

gum boil: See fistula.

gum recession: exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, bone loss from periodontal disease or surgery

halitosis: bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin

Heimlich Maneuver: techinque employed by rescuer for obstruction of victim's airway

hematoma: swelling of effused blood beneath tissue surface

HMO or DMO: health (dental) maintenance organization which specifies a health care (dental) provider a patient may see. Profitability depends on minimization of treatment.

hydrogen peroxide: disinfecting solution used in dental irrigation procedures or as mouth rinse

hygienist: dental auxiliary who cleans teeth and provides patient education; administers local anesthetic, nitrous oxide and performs periodontal scaling

hyperemia: increased blood flow; may cause dental sensitivity to temperature and sweets; may precede an abscess

impaction: partial or completely unexposed tooth that is wedged against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue, precluding the eruption process

implant: artificial device replacing tooth root; may anchor an artificial tooth, bridge, or denture

impression: mold made of the teeth and soft tissues

incision and drainage: surgical incision of an abscess to drain suppuration (pus)

incisors: four upper and four lower front teeth, excluding the cuspids (canine teeth)

infiltration: local anesthetic procedure effective for upper teeth and soft tissue; placement of anesthetic under the gum, allowing it to seep into bone

inlay: indirect - filling made by a dental laboratory that is cemented or bonded into place, direct - placement of dental composite resin, or porcelaion restoration at chairside

interocclusal: space between upper and lower teeth

interproximal: surfaces of adjoining teeth

intraoral camera: a small video camera used to view and magnify oral conditions; images may be printed

jacket: crown for a front tooth, usually made of porcelain

laminate: thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth

laughing gas: nitrous oxide; odorless inhalation agent that produces relative analgesic (sedation); reduces anxiety and creates a state of relaxation

lesion: injury of bodily tissue due to infection, trauma or neoplasm

local anesthesia: partial or complete elimination of pain sensation, in the immediate vicinity of its application or injection

MAGD: Masters Academy of General Dentistry

malocclusion: "bad bite" or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth

managed care: program whereby patient-dentist assignment and dentist reimbursement is administered by a separate, external organization

mandible: the lower jaw

margin: interface between a restoration and tooth structure

Maryland bridge: a bridge that is bonded to the back of the adjacent teeth; requires minimum tooth reduction

mastication: process of chewing food

maxilla: the upper jaw

meniscus: capsular cushion between temporomandibluar joint and glenoid fossa

milk teeth: deciduous (baby) teeth

molars: three back teeth in each dental quadrant used for grinding food.

moniliasis (thrush): opportunistic fungal infection after administration of antibiotic; not uncommon in the mouth

mucogingival junction (MGJ): meeting of thick, protective gingival tissue around the teeth and the friable mucous lining of the cheeks and lips

nerve (root) canal: dental pulp; the internal chamber of a tooth

nerve: tissue that conveys sensation, temperature, position information to the brain

night guard: acrylic appliance used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by grinding or gnashing of the teeth during sleep

nitrous oxide: a gas used to reduce patient anxiety

Novocain: older brand name for a local anesthetic, currently replaced by safer, more effective agents

NSAID: non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often used as a dental analgesic

occlusion: closure; relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure

onlay: laboratory produced restoration covering one or more cusps of a tooth

oral and maxillofacial surgeon: a dental specialist who manages the diagnosis & surgical treatment of diseases, injuries, and deformities of the mouth and supporting structures; Requires four additional years of training after dental school

oral and maxillofacial surgery: surgical procedures on the mouth including extractions, removal of cysts or tumors, and repair of fractured jaws

oral cavity: the mouth

oral hygiene: process of maintaining cleanliness of the teeth and related structures

oral pathologist: dentist specializing in the study of oral diseases

orthodontics: dental specialty that treats misalignment of teeth

osseous: boney

overbite: vertical overlap of the front teeth; deep bite

overdenture: denture that fits over residual roots or dental implants

overjet: horizontal overlap of the front teeth; protruding front teeth

palate: hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth

palliative treatment: non invasive relief of irritating conditions

parasthesia: a partial loss of sensation; may be temporary or permanent

partial denture: removable dental prosthesis (appliance) replacing one or more natural teeth

pathology: study of disease

pedodontics or pediatric dentistry: dental specialty focusing on treatment of children

periapical (PA): region at the end of the roots of teeth

periodontal chart: record measuring the depth of gum pockets around the teeth along with documenting sites of associated infection

periodontal surgery: recontouring or esthetic management of diseased gum and supporting tissue

periodontist: dental specialist treating the gums and supporting soft and hard tissues retaining natural teeth and the surgical placement of dental implants

permanent teeth: (usually) thirty-two adult teeth in a complete dentition

pit: a small defect in the tooth enamel; junction of four formative lobes of a developing tooth

placebo: inert medication or treatment that produces psychological benefit

plaque: soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth; composed of bacteria and food debris due to inadequate dental hygiene

pontic: replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance

porcelain crown: all porcelain restoration covering the coronal portion of tooth (above the gum line)

porcelain fused to metal (PFM) crown: restoration with metal coping (for strength) covered by porcelain (for appearance)

porcelain inlay or onlay: tooth-colored restoration made of porcelain, cemented or bonded in place

porcelain veneers: a thin layer of porcelain, fabricated by a laboratory) bonded to a natural tooth to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth or change color and/or shape

post: thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal therapy; provides retention for a "coping" that replaces lost tooth structure and retains crown

post-core: post and buildup to replace lost tooth structure and retain crown

post-crown: single structure that combines post-core and crown

PPO or PDO: preferred provider (dental) organization which a health care (dental) provider may join, offering fee for service treatment at reduced fees

prognosis: the anticipated outcome of treatment

prophylaxis: cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of periodontal disease and tooth decay

prosthesis: an artificial appliance for the replacement for a body part, tooth or teeth

prosthodontist: dental specialist skilled in restoring or replacing teeth with fixed or removable prosthesis (appliance), maintaining proper occlusion; treats facial deformities with artificial prostheses such as eyes, ears, and noses

pulp cap: a medicated covering over a small area of exposed pulp tissue

pulp chamber: the center or innermost portion of the tooth containing the pulp

pulp: the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue inside a tooth

pulpectomy: complete removal of the pulp (commonly done in children's teeth)

pulpitis: inflammation of the pulp; common cause of toothache

pulpotomy: partial removal of the pulp tissue

pyorrhea: older term for periodontal (gum) disease

reimplantation: insertion and temporary fixation of partially or completely avulsed tooth or teeth, resulting from traumatic injury

reline: acrylic restoration of denture base to compensate for bone loss; direct: done at chairside; indirect: in conjunction with a dental laboratory

restoration: replacement of portion of a damaged tooth

retained root: partial root structure remaining in jaw after extraction or fracture of a natural tooth

root canal therapy: process of removing pulp of a tooth and filling it with an inert material

root canal: common term for root canal therapy, also the interior space of the tooth root

root resection: removal of a portion of diseased root structure, retaining the remaining natural tooth

root: tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw

rubber dam: soft latex sheet used to establish isolation of one or more teeth from contamination by oral fluids and to keep materials from falling to the back of the throat

saliva ejector: suction tube placed in the mouth to remove saliva

saliva ejector: suction tube placed in the mouth to remove saliva

saliva: clear lubricating fluid in the mouth containing water, enzymes, bacteria, mucus, viruses, blood cells and undigested food particles

salivary glands: located under tongue and in cheeks, produce saliva

scaling and root planing: meticulous removal of plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces

sealants: thin resin material bonded in the pits and fissures of back teeth for the prevention of decay

secondary dentin: reparative tooth structure produced by the pulp in response to tooth irritation

sequstrum: loosened spicule of bone pushed to the surface

sinusitis: inflammation of the sinus that may mimic dental pain

sleep apnea: the periodic interruption or delay in breathing during sleep

space maintainer: dental device that holds the space lost through premature loss of baby teeth

splint: connection of two or more teeth so they function as a stronger single structure

supernumerary tooth: extra tooth

suppuration: bacterial contamination of tissue exudate; pus

tartar: common term for dental calculus, a hard deposit that adheres to teeth; produces rough surface that attracts plaque

third-party provider: insurance company, union, government agency that pays all or a part of cost of dental treatment

tmd (or tmj disorder): temperomandibular disorder; term given to condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open or move the jaw

tmj: the temporomandibular joint, the point where the lower jaw attaches to the skull

tooth bud: early embryonic structure that becomes a tooth

tooth whitening: a chemical or laser process to lighten the color of teeth; can be done with a professional take-home product or in office in about 1 hour.

topical anesthetic: ointment that produces mild anesthesia when applied to tissue surface

torus: common bony protuberance on the palate or lower jaw

transplant: placing a natural tooth in the empty socket of another tooth

trauma: injury caused by external force, chemical, temperature extremes, or poor tooth alignment

trench mouth: gum disease characterized by severe mouth sores and loss of tissue. See ANUG.

UCR: usual, customary and reasonable fees

unerupted tooth: a tooth that has not pushed through the gum and assumed its correct position in the dental arch

veneer: plastic or porcelain facing bonded directly to a tooth to improve its appearance. See laminate.

vertical dimension: arbitrary space between upper and lower jaws upon closure; may decrease over time due to wear, shifting or damage to the teeth; may need to be re-established in order to avoid problems with bite or tompromandibular joint (TMJ)

wisdom teeth: third (last) molars that usually erupt at age 18-25 (when "wisdom is attained")

xerostomia: dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva; can be side effect of common medications; patients with this situation may need fluoride supplementation and/or saliva substitute to avoid high decay rate

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