Dental Dictionary

Abscess
Infection caused by severe tooth decay, gum disease or trauma. May cause pain and swelling.

Amalgam
A silver coloured filling material made of a mix of silver, tin, mercury and small amounts of other metals, such as copper. An easy filling material to use and fairly cheap. Unfortunately amalgam tends to expand with time and can lead to the tooth fracturing around the filling. The filling itself often becomes discoloured and starts to break down in 10 to 20 years.

Apicoectomy
This is a surgical procedure used to seal the root tip of a tooth. Normally only done if root canal treatment cannot be performed satisfactorily on a tooth that developed an infection or abscess at the root tip.

Bridge
Used to replace missing teeth. Usually consists of one or more artificial teeth attached to crowns or caps on the neighbouring teeth.

Bruxism/grinding
Tooth grinding, often done unconsciously at night. Sometimes, but not always, caused by stress. Can lead to severe loss of tooth structure.

Calculus
Also called tartar. A hard deposit on the tooth surface. Formed by the mineralisation of plaque.

Caries
Decay that causes breakdown of teeth (holes) as a result of bacteria in dental plaque’s action on tooth structure.

Cavity
A hole in a tooth after decayed areas crumble and chip off.

Composite fillings
Tooth coloured filling, also called composite resin or bonded resin fillings. Good colour match to the teeth and strong. Because the filling is bonded to the tooth, it will strengthen rather than weaken the tooth.

Crossbite
Misalignment of the teeth when biting. The lower teeth biting on the outside or in front of the upper teeth.

Crown
Sometimes also called a cap. A crown is used to cover a decayed or broken tooth. Can be made of porcelain and/or metal.

Denture hyperplasia
Swollen red areas or growths on the gums caused by ill-fitting dentures.

Deciduous teeth
Primary or baby teeth.

Etch
To treat a tooth with a light concentration of acid. This is done to create a roughened surface on which to bond a dental material.

Extraction
The removal of teeth that cannot be restored.

Fissure sealant
Sometimes just called sealant for short. A thin resin coating applied to fissures (grooves) of teeth to prevent decay.

Gingiva
Gum tissue.

Gingivitis
Inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding teeth. Mainly caused by bacteria in dental plaque and hard deposits on the tooth surface. Leads to soreness, swelling and sometimes bleeding of the gums. Also see: Periodontitis.

Halitosis
Bad breath.

Impacted teeth
Teeth that cannot grow into the mouth in their normal positions. This is caused either by a lack of space for the affected teeth or by the teeth growing in the wrong direction. Mostly affects the wisdom teeth, but can also happen to premolar, canine and, in rare cases, any other teeth.

Implant
An artificial root, made of metal and sometimes ceramic materials, planted into the gums in areas where teeth are absent. Crowns, bridges or dentures can then be fixed to the implants to replace missing teeth. These structures are either permanently fixed to the implants or made in such a way that they can be removed to facilitate cleaning.

Implantology
The art and science of dental implant surgery.

Inlay and/or onlay
A filling made of metal, porcelain, or composite material and cemented into the tooth. If the filling covers the cusps (tips) of the tooth, it is called an onlay.

Malocclusion
The technical term for teeth that do not fit together correctly. Malocclusions not only affect the teeth, but also the appearance of the face. Most malocclusions are inherited. However, some are due to acquired habits such as thumb sucking and tongue thrusting. The spacing left from an adult tooth being extracted or an early loss of a baby tooth can also contribute to a malocclusion.

Mucosa
Lining layer of the inside of the mouth.

Nightguard
A plastic mouthpiece to prevent damage from grinding teeth at night.

Occlusion
The way the upper and lower teeth meet and bite against each other.

Orthodontic treatment

Braces or other appliances fitted to teeth to correct their position in the mouth.

Orthognathic surgery
The oral and facial surgery done to reposition and correct misaligned jaws.

Overbite
This refers to the amount of vertical overlap of the front teeth. The normal range is between 0 and about 2 to 3 mm.

Overjet
This refers to the distance between the upper and lower incisor teeth, measured in a horizontal plane. Normal is 0 to about 1 mm.

Periodontitis
The name given to advanced gum disease. Inflammation of both the gum tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. Can result in tooth loss if left untreated. Also see: Gingivitis.

Plaque
The soft whitish to brown substance that clings to teeth. This should be removed from the teeth with brushing and flossing. Plaque consists of food particles, saliva, bacteria (germs) and dead cells from the soft tissues in the mouth. It also contains sticky substances that cause it to cling to the tooth surface.

Porcelain onlays
A partial cover for a badly broken or decayed tooth, covering one or more of the tooth cusps of back teeth. An onlay, in comparison to a crown, is more conservative with regards to the amount of tooth structure that needs to be removed to fit the restoration.

Porcelain veneer
Also called laminated veneer. A thin layer of porcelain bonded to the tooth to hide imperfections in shape and colour.

Prophylaxis/cleaning
Cleaning and polishing of teeth with hand instruments, a dental handpiece (motor) and polishing pastes. Sometimes a cavitating and/or baking soda spraying instrument are used. Done to remove dental plaque and stains from teeth and to prevent decay and gum infections. Also see: Scaling and polishing.

Prosthesis
An artificial (false) item made as replacement for a lost part of the body. In the case of dentistry this will mean dentures (false teeth), crowns, bridges, etc.

Pulp
The living tissue, arteries, veins and nerves found on the inside of a tooth.

Pulpotomy
Removal of the pulp (nerve) from a deciduous (baby) tooth.

Root canal therapy
Cleaning out and filling the inside of the tooth and its roots. This is done in cases where the living tissue inside the tooth died down or became infected. Often done to treat teeth that are extremely sensitive to heat or cold and/or painful when bitten on.

Root planing
Cleaning of the root surface below the gum line to ensure healthy gum tissue, firmly attached to the bone surrounding the teeth.

Scaling and polishing
The removal of hard deposits from the tooth surface and small fold of gum tissue surrounding the teeth. Hand instruments or special mechanical scaling machines are used. Also see: Prophylaxis/cleaning.

Sulcus
The shallow space between a tooth and the gum surrounding the tooth.

Tartar
Also called calculus. A hard deposit on the tooth surface. Formed by the mineralisation of plaque.

TMJ (Tempero-Mandibular Joint)
The joint of the jaw in the base of the skull.