Dental Glossary

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dental glossary is an alphabetical list of the most important terms used by your dentist and dental care team, with an explanation of its meaning. As dentistry uses specialised and sometimes difficult words to describe dental issues, treatments and procedures, the definition of dental terms used by your oral health carers will help you better understand the exact meaning of any dental condition you may suffer, as well as what is involved in treatments and dental procedures.

The Glossary of Dentistry from Bupa gives you explanations to all important dental terminologies. Learn more about cosmetic treatments or surgical implants, general dentistry, orthodontic procedures or any aspect of dentistry of your concern by consulting this brief dictionary of dental terms.



The wearing out of tooth structure due to rubbing and scraping, generally because of incorrect brushing methods, hard bristled tooth brushes or teeth grinding habits. Abrasion is not caused by chewing.


An infection of tooth, soft tissue or bone, which can include pus and swelling of the gum tissue surrounding a tooth. Tooth decay, tooth trauma or open cavities are the main causes of this infection, which can spread throughout the mouth and body if not treated.


The tooth or tooth structure on either side of a missing tooth used as an anchor to support a fixed or removable dental bridge.

Acid etch

A dentistry procedure where a tooth’s surface is etched with an acidic component in order to place brackets or to perform any other type of dental bonding.

Alveolar bone

The bony structure of the jaw that surrounds, supports and anchors the roots of the teeth. Loss of alveolar bone is associated with severe gum disease.

Alveolar Osteitis

Also known as dry socket, alveolar osteitis is an inflammation of the bone occurred when a tooth is extracted and the protective blood clot becomes dislodged, leaving the bone and tooth nerves exposed.

Alveolar process Or Alveolar bone

It is the part of the jaw that contains the tooth sockets.


A common mixture of metals containing silver, tin, copper and zinc in combination with mercury used to repair cavities.

Anaerobic bacteria

The bacteria generally associated with periodontal disease and which don’t need oxygen to grow.


The medication which produces a partial or complete loss of sensation (and thus, of pain), along with partial or complete unconsciousness.


Pain relief without the loss of consciousness.


A drug used to stop or slow the growth of bacteria.


A chemical agent that can be applied to living tissues in order to eliminate germs.


The tip of the root of a tooth.

Aphthous Ulcer

Also known as canker sore, it is a type of mouth ulcer that presents as a painful open sore inside the mouth (inside the cheeks, lips, on or under the tongue, the roof of the mouth or the gums) or the upper throat. This break in the mucous membrane is usually white, yellow or light grey and sometimes surrounded by a red border.


Root end surgery consisting in the removal of the tip of the root of a tooth performed to treat a dead tooth.


A removable dental restoration or orthodontic device.


The alignment of the upper or lower teeth.

Arch wire

A metal wire attached to dental brackets to help teeth moved into the desired position.


A mechanical device used in dentistry to allow the orthodontist to carefully look at a patient’s bite and to assist in the fabrication of dentures, crowns, bridges, inlays, onlays and orthodontic appliances.


The state of being free from disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, or preventing contact with micro-organisms.


A straw-like tube used in dentistry to remove saliva of the mouth during the performance of a dental procedure.


The loss of teeth structure (mainly enamel and dentin) due to activities such as chewing, teeth grinding or clenching of the jaw.

Baby bottle mouth

Term used by some dentists to describe the mouth of a child that has been sent to bed frequently with a bottle, resulting in tooth decay when the bottle contains sugared drinks.

Baby bottle tooth decay

Decay in infants and children, often affecting the upper front teeth, caused by sweetened liquids given and left clinging to the teeth for long periods. The bacteria caused by the long exposure to these liquids mixes with the sugar forming a type of acid that eats through the enamel and makes cavities.


The fourth and fifth teeth from the centre to the back of the mouth, in front of the molars, that are used for chewing. They only have two cusps or pointed areas, whereas molars have four. Adults have eight bicuspids, two in front of each group of molars.


The relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure.

Bitewing X-ray

A radiograph that shows the biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth on one film to help dentists detect cavities between the teeth.


A cosmetic dental procedure consisting of a chemical or laser treatment that uses peroxide to produce a whitening effect on teeth.


A process in which tooth coloured materials are bonded to the tooth (covering its surface) in order to repair or improve the appearance of a badly stained, broken or chipped tooth.

Bone resorption

A decrease in the amount of jaw bone supporting the roots of tooth, which is usually a result of gum disease.


Orthodontic devices placed in the teeth to gradually straighten and or reposition them.


A dental appliance permanently cemented onto adjacent teeth to replace one or more missing teeth.


The grinding, clenching or gnashing of the teeth, commonly during sleep, resulting in jaw disorders, jaw pain, soreness, earaches, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. It can lead to sleeping, eating and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems.


An element needed for the development of healthy teeth, bones and nerves.


Also known as tartar, calculus is a hard, calcium-like deposit that forms on teeth due to inadequate plaque control, often stained yellow or brown.


A small, narrow opening inside the root of a tooth.

Canker sore

A small shallow ulcer that forms inside the mouth, often white, yellow or light grey and sometimes presenting a small red border surrounding it. Canker sores commonly appear inside the cheeks, lips, under the tongue, the roof of the mouth and on the gums.


Common name for a dental crown.


Clinical name for cavities or tooth decay, which occur when plaque combines with the sugars and the starches of food. This combination produces acids that attack the enamel and which can be prevented by brushing and flossing daily.


A model of the teeth.


A hole in the tooth caused by decay.


The hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth.


A device holding a removable partial denture or bridge to stationary teeth.


The removal of plaque and tartar from teeth, generally above the gum line.

Cleft lip

The split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip that appears as a narrow gap in its skin. The separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw or the upper gum.

Cleft palate

An opening in the roof of the mouth


A tooth coloured restorative material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles. It is usually used for tooth-coloured fillings with a curing or hardening light.

Cosmetic dentistry

The branch of dentistry under which treatments are performed to improve the colour and shape of teeth.


The abnormal bite relationship of upper and lower jaw where the lower teeth or tooth align toward the cheek or lip side more than the upper teeth or tooth.


  1. The top portion of a tooth above the gum line that is covered by enamel.
  2. A custom-made dental restoration covering that fits over a whole tooth after the dentist has prepared it. It is usually made of porcelain fused to metal to withstand biting pressure.


The pointed tip on the biting surface of a tooth.


The third tooth from the centre to the back of the mouth. Front teeth with one rounded or pointed edge used for biting, also known as canines.


A Doctor of Dental Surgery; degree awarded to students after finishing dental school.


The destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria. This can be prevented by brushing twice a day and flossing daily.

Dental bridge

A dental appliance cemented onto adjacent teeth to replace one or more missing teeth.

Dental implant

A metal device usually made out of titanium which is surgically placed into the jawbone to replace a missing tooth. It is designed to act as the tooth root and can anchor an artificial tooth or teeth such as a crown, bridge or denture.


The branch of medicine that involves the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of any disease concern about teeth, the oral cavity and its associated structures.


The position, type and number of teeth in the upper and lower jaw.


An artificial object to replace missing teeth and their neighbouring structures. Dentures can be immediate, complete or partial and over dentures or temporary, depending on the requirements of every patient.


A space or gap between two teeth that can be easily corrected by orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry.

Dry mouth

Also known as xerostomia, it is a condition in which the flow of saliva is reduced and there is not enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. It can be the result of certain medications, diseases, medical treatments or nerve damage, dehydration, tobacco use and surgical removal of the salivary glands. It can lead to several dental problems such as decay, gum disease and gingivitis.

Dry socket

Also known as Alveolar Osteitis, it is a common complication that occurs when a blood clot has failed to form in an extracted tooth socket or when the existing blood clot has been dislodged, after a tooth has been removed. Without the blood clot, the bone and nerves of the tooth are exposed, causing severe pain.


The hard, calcified tissue that covers and protects the outside portion of tooth that lies above the gum line. It is the hardest substance of the human body.

Enamel shaping

A process in which the dentist reshapes the tooth by filling or removing some of the enamel. It is generally used to repair a chip or a slight misshape of a tooth.


The field of dentistry concerned with the biology and pathology of the dental pulp and root tissues of the tooth as well as with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries to these tissues.


The dental specialist that has completed four years of dental school along with an additional minimum two years of speciality training in endodontics.


The wearing away of tooth enamel as a result of exposure to acid.


The emergence of the tooth from its position in the jaw.


The removal of a tooth.


  1. A material used to replace an area of the tooth where decay has been removed and a cavity remains. The most common fillings are amalgam or silver fillings and composite or tooth-coloured fillings.
  2. The restoration of lost tooth structure with metal, porcelain or resin materials.


A channel emanating pus from an infection site. Also known as gums boil.

Flap surgery

The lifting of gum tissue to expose and clean underlying tooth and bone structures.


A thread-like material used to clean between the contact areas of teeth.


A mineral used to strengthen teeth enamel and prevent decay. It is naturally ingested through food or water and available in most toothpaste, as well as applied by dentists through a gel or liquid when required. The correct use of fluoride reduces cavities and tooth decay.

General dentist

The primary care dental provider, who diagnoses, treats and manages overall oral health care needs.


The soft tissue surrounding the base of the teeth.


The surgical removal of gum tissue.


An early stage of gum disease that can be treated and reversed when diagnosed early. Its symptoms are inflamed, red, swollen and puffy gums that bleed easily when touched or brushed. If treatment is not received, it can lead to periodontitis, an advanced, non reversible and more severe stage of gum disease, which includes tooth and bone loss.


A procedure performed by periodontists to reshape the gum tissue.

Gum recession

The exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of gums as a result of abrasion, periodontitis or surgery.


Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin.

Hand piece

The instrument used to hold and revolve burs in dental operations.

Hard palate

The bony front portion of the roof of the mouth.


A licensed, auxiliary dental professional who uses preventive, therapeutic and educational methods to control oral disease.


A sharp, sudden pain in teeth when exposed to hot, cold, sweet, sour, salty, chemical or mechanical stimuli.

Immediate denture

A complete or partial denture made in advance and positioned when the natural teeth are removed.

Impacted tooth

A tooth that is totally or partially below the gum line and is not able to erupt properly. It can push other teeth together or damage the bony structures supporting the adjacent tooth, making it necessary to be surgically removed. Third molars or wisdom teeth are the most commonly impacted teeth.


A metal device, usually made of titanium, which is surgically placed into the jawbone to permanently replace a missing tooth. It serves as the tooth’s root and anchor for the crown, bridge or denture that is placed over it.


A mould made of the teeth and soft tissues.

Incision and drainage

The surgical opening of an abscess to drain pus.


The four upper and four lower front teeth (excluding the canines) primarily used for biting and cutting.


A procedure similar to filling which works entirely within the cusps on the chewing surface of teeth.


A space in between two adjacent teeth.

Jaw or jawbone

The hard bone that supports the face and includes the alveolar bone, which anchors the teeth. The upper jaw is named maxilla and the lower jaw, mandible.

Laughing gas

Also known as nitrous oxide, it is a gas combined with oxygen to produce a calming effect and a sense of wellbeing when inhaled.


A white or grey patch on the tongue or the inside of the cheek as a reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth.


The side of the tooth that faces the tongue.

Local anaesthetic

An injection given in the mouth by a dentist in order to numb the area before undergoing a dental procedure.


The misalignment of the teeth of jaws which results in a “bad bite”.


The lower jaw.


The upper jaw.


A metal component of amalgam fillings.


The last three upper and lower teeth on both sides of the mouth.

Mouth guard

A soft-fitted device that is inserted into the mouth and worn over the teeth to protect them against impact or injury, or against teeth grinding.


The tissue that conveys temperature, sensation and position information to the brain.

Night guard

A removable appliance that fits over the teeth and it is used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by grinding, clenching or gnashing of teeth during sleep.

Nitrous oxide

Gas combined with Oxygen to produce a calming effect and a sense of wellbeing when inhaled. Mostly provided to help patients relax during dental treatments.

Occlusal x-rays

An X-ray showing full tooth development and placement. On each X-ray the dentist can see the entire arch of teeth in the upper or the lower jaw.


The relationship of the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed together.


A restoration made of metal, porcelain or acrylic that covers one or more biting surfaces of teeth.

Open bite

The situation where the upper teeth are not able to contact the opposing lower teeth.

Oral and maxillofacial radiologist

A specialist in the production and interpretation of X-ray images and data used in the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial area.

Oral and maxillofacial surgery

Surgical procedures on the oral cavity including extractions, removal of cysts or tumours and repair of fractured jaws.

Oral cavity

The mouth.

Oral hygiene

Process of keeping cleanliness of the teeth and related structures.

Oral pathologist

The oral health care provider who studies the causes of diseases which alter or affect the oral structures as well as parts of the face and neck.

Oral surgeon

Also known as maxillofacial surgeon, oral surgeon is a dental specialist who has graduated from dental school and completed at least four years of surgical hospital residency. Oral surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat defects, injuries and diseases of the mouth, jaw, teeth, gums, neck and soft tissues of the head.


A special field in dentistry which involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of bite abnormalities or facial irregularities.


A dental specialist who has graduated from dental school and completed an additional two to three years training program to prevent, diagnose and treat misalignment of teeth, malocclusions and facial development with braces, retainers, headgear and other methods.

Over denture

A denture that fits over the residual roots or the dental implants.


The overlap of upper and lower teeth when they close together.


The hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth.

Panoramic x-rays

X-ray films which show a complete two dimensional representation of all the teeth in the mouth, as well as the relationship of the teeth to the jaws and the jaws to the head.

Partial denture

A removable appliance that replaces some teeth in the upper or lower jaw.

Pedodontics or paediatric dentistry

The dental speciality focussed on the treatment of infants, children and young adults.

Pedodontist or paediatric dentist

A dentist who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of the dental problems of children, providing oral health care as well as education on oral hygiene.


The area at the end of the root of a tooth.

Periapical x-rays

X-ray films which show a complete side of views from the roots to the crowns of the teeth.

Periodontal ligament

The connective tissue surrounding the tooth, covering the cementum, which connects the tooth to the jawbone and holds it in place


A speciality of dentistry which focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the tissues supporting teeth.


The dental specialist that has graduated from dental school and completed an additional three years training program in preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases of the soft tissues of the mouth and the supporting structures of teeth, both natural and implanted.


A serious, advanced and irreversible stage of gum disease which includes bone loss and tooth loss.


The tissue that lines the socket into which the root of the tooth fits.

Permanent teeth

The teeth which replace the primary teeth. There usually are 32 adult teeth in a complete dentition.


The soft and sticky substance that accumulates on the teeth from food debris, bacteria and saliva. It can be removed by brushing and flossing and maintaining a good oral hygiene. If it is not removed, it can form tartar and lead to gum disease and tooth decay.


The false tooth in a bridge or denture that replaces the missing tooth.


A tooth coloured material which takes the appearance of enamel.


A thin metal rod inserted into the root of a tooth after root canal treatment, providing retention for a capping that replaces lost tooth structure.

Pregnancy gingivitis

A condition caused by increased hormone levels that can cause swollen, red and tender gums, along with bleeding gums when touched or brushed.

Primary teeth

The first set of 20 temporary teeth forming the primary dentition, which is replaced by the permanent dentition gradually between 6 and 12 years of age.


A fixed or removable appliance used to replace missing teeth.


Dental specialist who is skilled in the replacement of missing teeth and the restoration of natural teeth. A prosthodontist is trained to deal with complicated and simple restorations of the whole mouth and to treat facial deformities.


The living part of the tooth, located inside the dentin and which contains the nerve tissue and blood vessels that supply nutrients to the tooth.


Also known as X-ray; the projection of an image into a photographic film using radiation.


The process of fixing the appliance back on the associated area.


Also known as odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping or slenderizing, it is a procedure in which small amounts of tooth enamel are removed to change a tooth’s shape, surface or length.


A natural process in which a tooth’s minerals are restored or replaced. It reverses the process of decay resulting from demineralization.


A replacement for lost tooth structure or teeth, be it dentures, bridges, fillings, crowns or implants of any kind.


A usually removable orthodontic appliance which is supposed to be worn after the removal of dental braces to stop teeth from returning back to their original positions and misaligning.


The tooth structure that connects the tooth to the jaw..

Root canal

Also known as root canal therapy, it is a dental procedure meant to fix a tooth by removing its pulp chamber and filling it with a suitable filling material. It is usually performed when the tooth cannot be filled or restored by any other procedure because the decay has reached the nerve of the tooth or it has become infected.

Rubber dam

A rubber sheet that fits around teeth to isolate the treatment area from the rest of the oral cavity.


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


The act of performing a nonsurgical deep cleaning procedure to remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gum line.


A clear and protective coating that is applied to the biting surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay by shielding against bacteria and plaque. It is most commonly placed on children’s permanent teeth because of their proneness to cavities.


A medication used to reduce pain and anxiety on patients.


The process of reshaping a tooth by filling or removing some of the enamel.

Soft palate

The back one-third of the roof of the mouth composed of soft tissue.

Space maintainer

A dental device that holds the space lost through premature loss of primary teeth.


Extrinsic stains are those located on the outside of the tooth surface that can usually be removed by polishing the teeth with an abrasive cleaning paste. They are usually caused by external substances (tobacco, coffee, tea, food). Intrinsic stains are permanent and irremovable, caused by the ingestion of certain materials or by chemical substances during the development of the teeth, as well as by the presence of caries.


An inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture due to poor dental hygiene or a build-up of certain fungus.


Also known as dental calculus, it is a hard deposit that adheres to teeth producing a rough surface that attracts plaque.


A yeast infection in the oral cavity caused by the fungus Candida Albicans.


What is TMD?
TMD stands for ‘Temporo-Mandibular Joint Dysfunction’ and describes the jaw joints not functioning correctly.
This can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as :
Jaw joint clicking or grating, Jaw joint pain, muscular pain such as facial pain or headaches or neck pain, grinding or clenching of teeth.
In addition, many patients have secondary symptoms which may be related to TMD. These include regular sinus blockages, ear pain or tinnitus (ringing in the ear) or ear pain on flying.
A common feature of TMD is grinding or clenching of teeth, which can lead to tooth wear or chipping.

Tooth erosion

The wearing away of tooth enamel due to exposure to acid.

Tooth sensitivity

The pain or discomfort when teeth are exposed to sweets, hot or cold. Discomfort can also appear when brushing and flossing.

Tooth whitening

A chemical or laser process to recover the brightness and natural colour of teeth.


The placing of a natural tooth in an empty socket.


An injury caused by external force, chemical, temperature shock or poor tooth alignment.

Trench mouth

A painful and severe gum infection occurred due to high bacteria levels in the mouth, usually from poor oral hygiene. It can also be caused from lack of sleep, stress and poor nutrition.

Under bite

The protrusion forward of the lower jaw causing it and its teeth to extend out beyond the upper teeth.

Unerupted tooth

A tooth which hasn’t pushed through the gum and taken its correct position in the dental arch.


A thin shell custom made out of porcelain or composite material and cemented to the front side of the tooth to treat dental conditions such as slightly crooked tooth, discoloured teeth, or chipped teeth, or to cover spaces in between teeth.

Wisdom teeth

The third and last molars, which usually erupt between the ages of 18 to 25.


The projection of an image onto photographic film using radiation.


Dry mouth or decrease in the production of saliva which can cause difficulty in speech and eating, halitosis and a rise in the number of cavities.


Yawning is a normal physiological process that we all do. Excessive yawning can be a sign of disturbed sleep however and this can be due to snoring. If you or your partner snore – why not visit The Dental Clinic so that we can investigate further and look at a range of treatments that can help.

Zero staining

Term applied to foodstuffs that do not stain teeth.

Zygomatic bone

Quadrangular bone on either side of face that forms the cheek prominence.