Here you’ll find common phrases used by dentists and professionals in a dental office. When at a dental visit, never feel intimidated or like you’re interrupting by asking what a word means. Dentists, hygienists, and assistants should always try to make information clear to patients. A good dental team will never make you feel inferior or silly by asking a question.
Abutment: The teeth that a bridge connects to on either side of the space left by a missing tooth. Also refers to the connector between an implant post and crown.
Aesthetics: Also esthetics. Having to do with a beautiful appearance. Refers to cosmetic dentistry.
Amalgam: Also called silver, metal, or dark filling material. Made of about 50% mercury with silver, tin, copper, zinc, or other metals.
Anesthesia: Reduction or elimination of pain with drugs. Can be topical, oral, inhaled, or intravenous.
Anterior Teeth: Refers to the six upper and lower front teeth. Anxiolytic Drug: A drug that reduces anxiety.
Biomimetic Dentistry: The use of biomaterials and innovative equipment designed to conserve teeth and gums.
Bite Wings: X-rays taken to find tooth decay (caries).
Bite: Also called occlusion, refers to how upper and lower teeth and fit together.
Braces: Also called orthodontics or orthodontia, braces are generally composed of wires and brackets. They use tension to realign permanent teeth for better occlusion, esthetics, and/or spacing. Clear braces or aligners, such as Invisalign or Red, White, and Blue are now popular alternatives to traditional metal braces.
Bridge: One or more false teeth in a row, held in place permanently by one or two crowned abutment teeth on either side of the gap left by the missing teeth.
Bruxism: Grinding or clenching of the teeth, most commonly while the patient is asleep. Associated with TMJ disorder and stress. Can cause significant tooth wear.
Calculus: Also called tartar. Hardened plaque that can turn yellow or brownish. Contributes to gum irritation and gum disease.
Caries: Tooth decay.
Cavities: Decay, caries, or dental caries. They all mean the same thing.
CDA: Certified Dental Assistant
CEREC: Chairside Economic Restorations of Esthetic Ceramics. An in-office computer that allows design, fabrication, and placement of crowns, veneers, inlays, and onlays in a single dental visit.
Cleaning: Also called hygiene visit. Professional removal of plaque and tartar.
Composite Resin: Plastic dental filling or bonding material that contains with small glass or ceramic particles. Applied as liquid and cured with a light or chemical catalyst.
Cosmetic Dentistry: Also called esthetic or aesthetic dentistry. Procedures that correct imperfections in the appearance of a smile. Can include whitening, veneers, etc.
Conscious Oral Sedation: Also called oral conscious sedation or sleep dentistry. Requires certification. Involves administering oral medication and nitrous oxide under close monitoring to induce a state of extreme relaxation. Patient can respond to verbal commands.
Crown: Portion of a tooth that extends above the gum line. Also refers to a lab-made restoration known as a cap. Also refers to the false tooth placed on a dental implant.
DDS: Doctor of dental surgery. Diploma awarded to dentists upon graduation from dental school. See DMD, an equivalent degree.
Decay: Area of tooth structure infected by bacterial toxins. Also called caries or cavity.
Dental Phobia: Fear of dentists, dentistry, dental visits, and/or dental procedures.
Dentition: Arrangement and qualities of teeth.
Denture: Set of artificial teeth. Full dentures replace all upper or lower teeth. Partial dentures replace missing teeth by fitting false teeth into the dentition like a puzzle piece. All dentures consist of false teeth anchored to a gum-colored base. Implant-supported dentures connect to implant posts surgically placed into the jaw by an oral surgeon, prosthodontist, periodontist, or trained general dentist.
Digital X-Rays: Also called digital radiography. Digital X-ray machines emit about 80% less radiation than traditional machines. No film or development is required. Images are stored digitally and can be projected onto a monitor.
DMD: Doctor of medical dentistry. Diploma awarded to dentists upon graduation from dental school. See DDS, an equivalent degree.
Enamel: White, hard tissue, outer layer of the portion of a tooth that extends above the gum line. Covers dentin.
Endodontist: A specialist who treats the internal parts of teeth, such as roots/nerves and canals.
Esthetics: Also aesthetics. Having to do with a beautiful appearance. Refers to cosmetic dentistry.
Extraction: Tooth removal.
FAGD: Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry.
Filling: Amalgam or composite resin material that replaces tooth decay.
Full-Mouth Reconstruction: Also called full-mouth rehabilitation. Includes various dental procedures to restore the health, function, comfort, and shape of dentition.
General Anesthesia: A controlled state of unconsciousness that involves reduction or elimination of pain, protective reflexes, and responsiveness to any oral or physical stimulus.
General Dentist: A graduate of dental school with a DDS or DMD, equivalent degrees. A general dentist can take continuing education or earn certification to perform advanced dental procedures. General dentists must be licensed by the state board for the state in which they practice and must adhere to state board guidelines.
Gingiva: Gum tissue.
Gingivectomy: Surgical removal (reduction) of gum tissue for esthetics or crown lengthening.
Gingivitis: First stage of gum disease. Inflamed gums.
Gum Recession: The natural drawing back of gum tissue caused by abrasion, gum disease, or surgery.
Halitosis: Bad breath.
HMO or DMO: Health or dental maintenance organization related to dental insurance. Dictates which doctors a patient can use. Profits by requiring reduced fees from medical or dental care providers.
Implant: Metal (titanium) post placed into the jaw to anchor a false tooth, bridge, denture, or partial.
Impression: A soft mold of teeth and gums to use for fabricating prosthetics and restorations.
Inlay: Restoration made in a dental lab, then bonded into the area of a tooth between cusps. Larger and stronger than a filling, yet not as significant as a crown.
Instant Orthodontics: Application of veneers to correct the appearance of misaligned front teeth for cosmetic reasons.
Intraoral Camera: Small camera, usually on a “wand.” Projects images from inside the mouth onto a monitor. Used for accurate diagnoses, patient education, records, and insurance claims.
Invisalign: Custom, removable, acrylic aligners created with 3D imaging to reposition teeth, much like traditional orthodontics. Invisalign is intended for older teens and adults.
IV Sedation: A sedative administered through the vein by injection.
Laminate: Lab-made porcelain or plastic veneer bonded to the front of a tooth.
Laughing Gas: Technically called nitrous oxide. Gas analgesic that, when inhaled, reduces pain and anxiety sensations. Local Anesthesia: Usually injected, a drug that reduces sensations in a specific area.
MAGD: Master of the Academy of General Dentistry. Certification granted to dentists who meet stringent qualifications set by a board of peers.
Malocclusion: Misalignment of teeth that affects the bite, or how upper and lower teeth fit together.
Nerve: Also called pulp, the tissue inside a tooth’s canal that brings nutrients and blood to the tooth and removes waste to keep it alive.
Nightguard: Appliance worn at night to prevent bruxism.
Nitrous Oxide: Commonly called laughing gas. Gas analgesic that, when inhaled, reduces pain and anxiety sensations. Novocain: older brand name for a local anesthetic, currently replaced by safer, more effective agents.
Occlusion: Also called bite, refers to how upper and lower teeth and fit together.
Onlay: Restoration made in a dental lab, then bonded into one or more cusps of a tooth. Larger and stronger than a filling, yet not as significant as a crown.
Oral Hygiene: Professional cleaning and maintenance of teeth and oral structures. Oral hygienists must have a degree in science.
Oral Sedation: An anxiolytic drug taken by mouth.
Orthodontics: Dental specialty that deals with alignment of teeth.
Pedodontist: Also pediatric dentist or children’s dentist.
Periodontal Chart: Written record of the depth of a patient’s gum pockets and gum disease locations.
Periodontal Surgery: Removal of diseased gum tissue so that new, healthy tissue will grow in its place. Can also refer to gum surgery of any kind.
Periodontist: Dental specialist who treats gums and supporting tissues/structures for teeth. A periodontist can place dental implants as well.
Plaque: The sticky substance naturally produced in the mouth. Accumulates on teeth and, combined with food debris, can promote gum disease. When plaque is left on teeth, it hardens into calculus or tartar.
PPO or PDO: Preferred provider or dental organization related to dental insurance. Providers may join if they offer reduced fees for care.
Prophylaxis: See cleaning.
Prosthesis: Also called a prosthetic, refers to a false tooth or appliance such as a bridge, denture, partial, or dental implant.
Pulp: Also called nerve, the tissue inside a tooth’s canal that brings nutrients and blood to the tooth and removes waste to keep it alive.
RDA: Registered Dental Assistant
RDH: Registered Dental Hygienist
Restoration: Repair to the structure of a tooth, such as a crown, inlay, or onlay.
Root Canal Therapy: Removal of irreparably damaged tooth nerve to avoid extraction of the affected tooth. Nerve is replaced with manmade material to reduce risk for infection. Tooth is sealed, usually with a crown.
Sealants: Painted on resin that covers the pits and fissures of back teeth to reduce potential for tooth decay. Often used for children.
Sleep Dentistry: See conscious oral sedation.
Sleep Medicine: The study and treatment of sleep disorders. Dental sleep medicine indicates treatment with an oral appliance.
Smile Makeover: A treatment plan that includes various cosmetic and esthetic restorative procedures to improve the appearance of a smile.
Tartar: Also called calculus. Hardened plaque that can turn yellow or brownish. Contributes to gum irritation and gum disease.
Teeth Whitening: Bleaching teeth with chemicals. Can be done in one hour with a light or with trays worn daily for about two weeks.
TMJ: Acronym for temporomandibular joints, the two joints that attach the jaw to the skull below the ears and allow opening, closure, and sideways movement of the jaw.
TMJ Disorder or Dysfunction: Misalignment of TMJ caused by many factors. Symptoms of TMJ disorder include pain in the face, jaw, neck, head, shoulders; chronic earaches; tingling extremities; clicking or popping of jaw; inability to fully open and close the mouth; and/or chronic headaches or migraines.
Veneer: Cosmetic dental treatment that involves lab-made porcelain or plastic wafers bonded to front teeth to mask chips, cracks, misalignments, or other imperfections.