Taking The Dental Terms Down A Notch

added on: August 26, 2013

The other day, I used the term “restoration” to a patient. When she asked me to explain what I meant, I was slightly caught off guard. This is a long-time, college educated patient, and she likes to feel fully informed at all levels of her care, and rightly so.

It occurred to me that this term has become so common to me that I assume it is a familiar one to my patients. However, that is an unfair assumption. Many terms I use on a regular basis are those I learned in college or dental school and anything but commonplace, as they are now.

Below are some terms you may hear us use, along with brief explanations of what they mean. And if you ever hear any term used by my staff or me that you aren’t sure what it is, feel free to ask. We want you to be involved in your oral health in an informed way!

Abrasion – Loss of tooth structure caused by a hard toothbrush, poor brushing teeth 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 tooth bridge.

Alveolar Bone – The jaw bone that anchors the roots of teeth.

Amalgam – A most common filling material, also known as silver fillings, containing mercury (approximately 50%), silver, tin, copper and zinc.

Anterior Teeth – The six upper or six lower front teeth.

Arch – Describes the alignment of the upper or lower teeth.

Bite – Relationship of the upper and lower teeth on closure (occlusion).

Bone Resorption – Decrease in bone supporting the roots of teeth, which is a common result of periodontal gum disease.

Bruxism – Grinding or gnashing of the teeth, most commonly while the patient is asleep.

Calculus – Hard residue, commonly known as tarter that forms on teeth due to inadequate plaque control.

Caries – Tooth decay or “cavities.”

Crossbite – Reverse biting relationship of upper and lower teeth also known as underbite, as in Class III malocclusion (prognathic jaw).

Curettage – Removal of diseased tissue from a periodontal pocket.

Cuspid or Canine – The four “eye teeth”.

Diastema – A space between teeth.

Fistula – The channel that emanates pus from an infection site, which is a gum boil.

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

Full Mouth Reconstruction – Extensive restorations of natural teeth with crowns and or fixed bridges to manage bite problems.

Frenectomy – The 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.

Gingiva – Gum tissue.

Gingivectomy – The surgical removal of gum tissue.

Gingivitis – The inflammation of gum tissue.

Gum Recession – The exposure of dental roots due to shrinkage of the gums as a result of abrasion, periodontal disease or surgery.

Halitosis – Bad breath of oral or gastrointestinal origin.

Hyperemia – Increased blood flow that may cause sensitivity to temperature and sweets.

Incisors – The four upper and lower front teeth, excluding the cuspids (canine teeth).

Inlay – An indirect filling cemented or bonded into place; or a direct placement of dental composite resin restoration at chairside.

Laminate – A thin plastic or porcelain veneer produced in a dental laboratory and then bonded to a tooth.

Malocclusion – A “bad bite” or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth.

Mandible – The lower jaw.

Margin – The interface between a restoration and tooth structure.

Maxilla – The upper jaw.

Occlusion – The relationship of the upper and lower teeth upon closure.

Onlay – A laboratory produced restoration covering one or more cusps of a tooth.

Overbite – A vertical overlap of the front teeth.

Overdenture – A denture that fits over residual roots or dental implants.

Overjet – A horizontal overlap of the front teeth.

Palate – Hard and soft tissue forming the roof of the mouth.

Partial Denture – A removable dental prosthesis (appliance) that replaces one or more natural teeth.

Pit – A small defect in the tooth enamel, or the junction of four formative lobes of a developing tooth.

Plaque – A soft sticky substance that accumulates on teeth and is composed of bacteria and food debris due to inadequate dental hygiene.

Pontic – A replacement tooth mounted on a fixed or removal appliance.

Porcelain Veneers – A thin layer of porcelain bonded to a natural tooth to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth or change shade or shape.

Prophylaxis – Cleaning of the teeth for the prevention of periodontal disease and tooth decay.

Pulp Chamber – The center or innermost portion of the tooth containing the pulp.

Reline – The acrylic restoration of a denture base to compensate for bone loss either done at chairside or in conjunction with a dental laboratory.

Restoration – The replacement of a portion of a damaged tooth.

Rubber Dam – A soft latex sheet used to isolate one or more teeth from contamination by oral fluids and to keep materials from falling to the back of the throat.

Scaling & Root Planning – The meticulous removal of plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces.

Splint – The connection of two or more teeth so that they function as a stronger single structure.

Tartar – A common term for dental calculus, a hard deposit that adheres to teeth and produces a rough surface that attracts plaque.

TMD (or TMJ Disorder) – Temperomandibular disorder is the term given to the condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open or move the jaw.

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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