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Dentistry terms explained
There are many dentistry terms you may come across in this website or elsewhere which may be unfamiliar to you.
With that in mind, we have created this glossary of terms to help make things clearer and give you a better understanding of the dental treatments which may be available to you.
Abscess - A painful swelling caused by a collection of pus around the tooth.
Acupuncture - An alternative, less painful and less stressful method of pain relief, using needles.
Air abrasion - A method of using a very fine abrasive stream to remove decay, which is quicker than drilling and can be done without anaesthetic.
Air flow - A method of cleaning teeth using a mixture of air, water and salt to remove plaque quickly and painlessly.
Aligners - Clear plastic moulds used to straighten teeth. Also known as 'invisible braces'.
Amalgam - The material used to make a silver filling, containing silver, mercury, tin and other metals.
Anaesthetic - Any form of medication which is used to relieve or prevent pain.
Articulator - An instrument which is used to simulate the movement of a patient's jaw and determine how well the teeth fit together.
Bicuspid - Another name for a premolar tooth.
Bite - See occlusion.
Bleaching - See tooth whitening.
Bonding - Fixing material such as a crown or veneer to a tooth, using very strong dental adhesive or cement.
Braces - Appliances which hold the teeth together in order to straighten them or improve their appearance over time.
Bridge - A method of holding a false tooth in place, either by crowning the teeth on either side of the gap (a fixed bridge), or by holding it in place with wings (an adhesive bridge).
Bridge needle - A special device for cleaning underneath false teeth that are held in by fixed or adhesive bridges.
Bruxism - See grinding.
Calculus - See tartar.
Canine - The third tooth from the middle, which is sharp and pointed for piercing food, also known as a cuspid.
Cap - See crown.
Cavity - A hole in the tooth caused by decay.
Cosmetic dentistry - Any dental treatment that is performed to improve the appearance of a smile.
Crown - Also known as a cap, an artificial restoration that fits over a specially-prepared tooth.
Cuspid - Another name for a canine tooth.
Dental implant - A titanium rod which is inserted into the jawbone to support one or more false teeth.
Dentine - The hard inner layer of the tooth under the enamel. It surrounds the pulp.
Denture - See false teeth.
Elastics - Elastic bands used in a brace to help straighten teeth.
Enamel - The hard outer layer of the tooth, which surrounds the dentine.
Endodontist - A specialist in root canal treatment.
Equilibration - Reshaping the biting surfaces to correct the occlusion of upper and lower teeth.
Extraction - The removal of one or more teeth.
False tooth - An artificial prosthetic tooth. A set of false teeth are known as dentures.
Filling - Material placed in a cavity to prevent further decay. Usually made from amalgam but can be made from other materials.
Fissure - A small natural crack in the biting surface of a molar or premolar.
Fissure sealant - A protective plastic coating used to seal fissures and pits to prevent food and bacteria getting caught in them and causing decay.
Floss - A thin nylon string, often coated in fluoride, that is inserted between the teeth to remove food and plaque.
Fluoride - A chemical that helps to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay.
Hingiva - See gum.
Hnashing - See grinding.
Hrinding - Unconscious clenching of the jaw and rubbing together of teeth, often during sleep. Also known as bruxism, or gnashing of teeth.
Hum - Tissue that covers the jawbones and surrounds the base of the teeth. Also known as gingiva.
Hum disease - Also known as periodontitis, or pyorrhea. A disease which inflames the gum and can eventually weaken its support of the teeth.
Hum line - The point where the tooth goes beneath the gum.
Headgear - An orthodontic appliance, usually worn at night, which helps to guide the growth and development of the jaw.
Hygienist - A dental professional who works with the dentist to keep patients' teeth and gums healthy. A hygienist's job includes scaling and polishing teeth.
Impression - An imprint of the teeth and gums, usually in wax or plaster.
Incisor - The four front teeth, which have sharp edges for cutting food.
Invisible braces - See aligners.
Jaw - The bones that hold the teeth and move them together for biting and chewing.
Jaw repositioners - Appliances used to temporarily adjust the position of the jaw to alleviate pain and check for malocclusion.
Laser whitening - A quicker method of tooth whitening using a strong light or laser to speed up the process, whitening teeth in under an hour.
Malocclusion - Incorrect alignment of the upper and lower teeth, preventing them from biting together properly. This can lead to problems with teeth, gums, and even the muscles of the jaw.
Milk teeth - The first set of teeth which appear in babies and begin to fall out between the ages of about six to fourteen. They are then replaced by the permanent teeth.
molar - The back teeth, which have broad flat edges for chewing food.
Mouthguard - A rubber cover worn to protect the teeth and gums during sport.
Occlusal equilibriation - A method of correcting malocclusion by reshaping the tops of teeth to help them fit together more comfortably
Occlusal restoration - Replacing or reconstructing teeth in order to correct malocclusion.
Occlusion - The way in which the upper and lower teeth meet when closed, also called the bite. An incorrect bite, or malocclusion, can cause problems such as head and neck pain.
Orthodontist - A dentist who specialises in the correction and straightening of crooked or poorly aligned teeth.
Periodontitis - A gum disease.
Permanent teeth - Also known as adult teeth, the second set of teeth which replace the milk teeth in children around the ages of six to fourteen.
Pit - A small natural crevice in the surface of a molar or premolar.
Plaque - A thin film of bacteria which constantly forms on the teeth. It reacts with sugars in food and drink to create acid which can cause decay. Plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing.
Polishing - Professionally cleaning the teeth to remove plaque and stains.
Post crown - A crown supported by a steel post inserted in the tooth, when root canal treatment has been performed.
Power whitening - Another name for laser whitening.
Premolar - The two teeth between the canine and molar teeth, adapted for chewing food.
Pulp - The soft inner tissue of a tooth, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. It is surrounded by dentine.
Pyorrhea - See gum disease.
Retainer - An appliance used to hold teeth in place for a time after they have been straightened using braces.
Root - The part of the tooth below the gum, which attaches the tooth to the jaw.
Root canal - The area of the root of the tooth which carries the nerves and blood vessels to the pulp.
Scaling - Removing tartar, plaque, and food, which brushing has been unable to remove, from the surface of the teeth.
Tartar - Also known as calculus, hardened plaque which forms a coating on the teeth that is difficult to remove. Scaling is sometimes required to remove tartar.
Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) - The joint which connects the lower jaw to the skull and lets it move. Called TMJ for short.
Tooth decay - Erosion of the teeth caused by plaque acid. If left untreated, decay can cause serious damage to a tooth.
Tooth whitening - Lightening the colour of teeth by several shades using bleaching agents to improve the appearance of a smile.
Ultrasonic scaling - A method of scaling using sound waves to remove tartar and plaque from below the gum line.
Veneer - A thin layer of porcelain or other material, attached to the front of a tooth to improve its appearance.
Wisdom tooth - The third molar. They appear in adult life, although sometimes they do not emerge at all. Sometimes wisdom teeth are obstructed from appearing, which can be very painful, and need to be extracted.
X-ray - A method of taking photographs of the inside of the mouth using electromagnetic radiation.
Dental Terms & Procedures
Amalgam Fillings (aka mercury silver) and gold fillings are/were used to fill cavities. They have become nearly obsolete since most patients choose composite resin, or "tooth-colored" fillings. Composite fillings can match the color of a natural tooth whereas amalgam cannot. Composite resin has rendered mercury/silver fillings and its associated health risks unnecessary.
Bonding is dental procedure that uses composite resin to fill and reshape imperfections and flaws in your teeth. Basically bonding means that a dentist will apply a coating of material over the visual surface of the teeth; he then sculpts, shapes and colorizes the bonding and hardens it with a heat-intensive light. Finally the surface is polished to achieve the desired, enhanced appearance.
Cosmetic Dentistry can be any type of dental procedure which enhances the patient's teeth and their smile -- thus improving a person's overall appearance and self-confidence.
Dental Crown, also known as "caps", is a dental procedure which includes reshaping a tooth and reducing its size by about 25%, then affixing a natural-looking covering, or a crown fabricated in a lab. Dental crowns can be used to replace chipped, decayed, broken, misaligned, or discolored teeth.
Dental Bridges are used to span, or bridge a gap (missing teeth) between healthy teeth. Same as with crowns, teeth on either side of the empty space are reshaped and reduced in size. The two shaped teeth then act as anchors, or abutments. The bridge is attached to the living, health teeth and fills the missing tooth space.
Dental Implants are simply metal posts with a false tooth on top. They are integrated into a patient's jawbone fusing together with the bone over time to form a strong, long-lasting replacement tooth.
An individual crown or a bridge may be cemented to the portion of the post, which rises above the soft tissue. An individual implant may be used to restore an area where a single tooth is missing, eliminating the need for Dental bridges. Multiple dental implants may be used to restore an edentulous area or a series of missing teeth, eliminating the need for partials or dentures.
Dental Veneers are a very thin outer shell of ceramic, or a poly-ceramic material placed on the tooth surface. Veneers are a conservative application of cosmetic dentistry where reducing or reshaping the natural tooth's structure is minimal. Veneers can however result in a very positive improvement to a person's smile.
Dentures are removable replacements for missing teeth typically made out of an acrylic resin. There are two main types of dentures, Complete Dentures and Partial Dentures. Dentures help strengthen muscles controlling your expressions that require the support of your teeth, solve problems of pronunciation caused by missing teeth and aid with chewing.
Hum Surgery (visible & receding gum lines) - Cosmetic surgery of the gums will help patients achieve an attractive smile whose smiles show a bit more gum than teeth. The procedure removes extra gum tissue using a laser to expose more tooth surface.
Sometimes as a result of gum disease, age, or bite misalignment, a patient can experience gradual receding of their gums. This can cause discomfort as the roots become more exposed; loosening of teeth usually occurs. In order to repair gum recession, cosmetic dentists graft tissues from the roof of a patient's mouth on to the gum line. The "brand new" gum line will then hold teeth firmly in place & protect teeth roots from future damage.
Tooth Bleaching is a cosmetic process prescribed by the dentist to whiten your teeth. The dentist takes an impression of your teeth and creates a custom fitted tray that holds a chemical next to the tooth surface. The whitener works by penetrating dentinal tubules -- resulting in whiter teeth.
Tooth Whitening is any treatment procedure or method your dentist might prescribe to whiten the color and brighten your teeth.