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Dental Glossary

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Amalgam -- See Fillings

Anaesthesia -- Anaesthesia is one of a variety of drugs or sedatives given to reduce pain or induce semi-consciousness. It is extremely important to tell your dentist if you have any drug allergies.

  • Local Anesthesia is the most common type of pain relief, injected only into the area to be worked on, by almost any dentist.
  • Intravenous Sedation is a medically controlled state of depressed consciousness. The patient is given intravenous (IV) administration of the sedative. The patient can respond to physical stimulation or verbal command, and has control of reflexes.
  • General Anesthesia is a medically controlled state of unconsciousness. The patient has a partial or complete loss of reflexes, and does not typically respond to physical stimulation or verbal command. Oxygen is given to assist with breathing.

Anterior teeth -- Anterior teeth are those teeth in the front of the mouth, such as incisors. These are the easiest teeth for a dentist to work on. When obtaining a dental quote, be clear on whether the charges are for posterior or anterior teeth. See also Posterior Teeth.

Apicectomy -- An apicectomy is the removal of the tip of the root. This minor surgical operation is required if infection persists after root treatment, or if the dentist is unable to seal the root tip with a normal root filling.

Bitewing x-rays -- see X-rays

Bleaching -- A cosmetic dental procedure that whitens the teeth using a bleaching solution.

Bonding -- Bonding can help restore chipped, cracked, discolored or misaligned teeth by artistically applying a bonding material, layer by layer, to the affected teeth. The material is applied to your teeth with a laser curing technique to create a strong bond.

Braces -- see Orthodontics

Bridge -- A bridge replaces missing teeth with artificial teeth, and literally bridges the gap where one or more teeth may have been. A bridge is also known as a fixed partial denture. If a bridge "hooks" onto an implant or crown but is removable, it is a removeable bridge, or removable partial denture.

Bruxism -- A condition of clenching or grinding the teeth, often at night. An experienced dentist may be able to perform a jaw manipulation to lessen bruxism. See Night Guard.

Caps -- See Crowns

Caries -- Another name for cavities (tooth decay).

Cavity -- A small hole in one of your teeth caused by tooth decay.

Cleaning -- Most dental associations and most dental insurance plans by for dental cleaning twice each year to maintain good oral health. The dentist will examine the teeth to look for any problems, and then the cleaning my be performed by a dental hygeinist. Cleaning may involve scaling with a dental tool to remove of plaque, calculus, and stain from teeth.

Composite -- Composite refers to two or more materials being joined together, for example quartz or glass crystals mixed together and held together with acrylic resin. Crowns, inlays and onlays can be made in the laboratory from dental composites. These materials are similar to those used in direct fillings and are tooth colored. One advantage to indirect composites is that they do not excessively wear opposing teeth. Their strength and durability is not as high as porcelain or metal restorations and they are more prone to wear and discoloration.

Consultation -- See Evaluation

Crown - porcelain/ceramic fused to metal -- The combination of porcelain bonded to a supporting structure of metal creates a stronger restoration than porcelain used alone. More of the existing tooth must be removed to accommodate the restoration. Although they are highly resistant to wear, porcelain restorations can wear opposing natural teeth if the porcelain becomes rough. There may be some initial discomfort to hot and cold. While porcelain-fused-to-metal restorations are highly biocompatible, some patients may show an allergic sensitivity to some types of metals used in the restoration.

Crown - temporary -- Temporary crowns are placed on a dental implant and stay on until the tooth is ready for the permanent crown.

Crowns -- A crown is a cup, moulded in the shape of your tooth, which covers the tooth above the gum line. A crown is a good way to cover teeth that are discolored or badly shaped. It's also used to cover a dental implant. A crown can support a tooth which has a large filling when there isn't enough tooth left. A crown can be used to attach a bridge, protect a weak tooth from breaking or restore one that's already broken.

Crowns can be made of ceramic or porcelain, or some kind of metal such as gold, or an acrylic or composite material, or a combination of materials. In some countries crowns are called "caps".

The crown that is placed on top of an implant may require more work and materials than a crown that is placed on top of your tooth.

Curretage -- A periodontal procedure where your gums are scraped to remove bacteria.

Denture specialist -- A dental specialist who has completed dental school and usually extra schooling (an extra two years in Canada or the USA and and extra 3 or 4 years in some European countries) to become a dental specialist. Some dental specialists then become Board Certified in their country.

There are several types of dental specialists.

  • Endodontist - A dental specialist who limits his/her practice to treating disease and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.
  • Oral And Maxillofacial Surgeon - A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities, defects and esthetic aspects of the oral and maxillofacial regions.
  • Orthodontist - A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the interception and treatment of malocclusion of the teeth and their surrounding structures.
  • Periodontist - A dental specialist whose practice is limited to the treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.
  • Prosthodontist - A dental specialist who specializes in prosthodontics, the specialty of implant, esthetic and reconstructive dentistry. Prosthodontists specialize in the restoration of oral function by creating prostheses and restorations (i.e. complete dentures, crowns, implant retained/supported restorations). Cosmetic dentistry, implants and joint problems all fall under the field of prosthodontics.
  • Pediatric Dentist - A dental specialist whose practice is limited to treatment of children from birth through adolescence; formerly known as a pedodontist.

Dental materials

  • Acrylic - A plastic used to false teeth, retainers, and other dental products. Dental acrylic has been tested and thought to be perfectly safe.
  • Ceramic - See Porcelain.
  • Composite - An acrylic material which can be made in the dental lab.
  • Gold (noble) - Gold can be mixed with copper and other metals to result in a strong material. 100% gold is too soft for dental work. Gold is well tolerated by the body.
  • Metal Alloys - The silver appearance of these metals are less popular since they do not look natural. These are not titanium unless specified.
  • Porcelain - 100% - Porcelain, or ceramic, is the material preferred by most people because it is the most natural-looking. However, 100% porcelain can be slightly translucent, or let some light into the material, especially around the edges. 100% porcelain is also easier to chip.
  • Porcelain/Metal - Probably the most popular type of material for crowns. The porcelain mimics natural teeth, and the metal adds strength and limits translucency.
  • Titanium - A metal that is more bio-compatible and "gets along" with your body better due to its chemical composition. Titanium is usually more expensive than other metals.

Denture reline -- Over time, dentures wear away against the soft tissue on top of the jaw bone, and may cause some discomfort. A relining is a process to resurface the side of the denture that is in contact with the soft tissues of the mouth, to make it fit better again.

Dentures -- Dentures are prosthetic devices constructed to replace missing teeth, and which are supported by surrounding soft and hard tissues of the oral cavity. Conventional dentures are removable, however there are many different denture designs, some which rely on bonding or clipping onto teeth or dental implants. There are two main categories of dentures, depending on whether they are used to replace missing teeth on the mandibular arch or the maxillary arch. There are many informal names for dentures such as dental plate, false teeth and falsies.

Diastema -- The term "diastema" refers to any space (gap) that lies between two teeth. Tooth bonding provides one way a dentist can fill in a diastema. Dental bonding can be applied to the two teeth that lie on each side of the gap so to reduce the gap's overall width.

Edentulous -- Without teeth

Endodontist -- An endodontist is a dental specialist who has additional education, training and experience in root canal procedures.

Evaluation -- There are different types of dental evaluations so make sure you know which one you are receiving. Some evaluations are limited to s specific area of the mouth, or are looking at a specific problem or potential problem. In other words, if you ask a dentist to tell you whether you need braces (orthodontic evaluation) you should not expect that he/she will automatically do an evaluation of the health of your gums (periodontal evaluation). If you want a complete dental evaluation, then ask for it by name.

Most dentists will charge for an evaluation but some will not. This does not mean one is better than another. Some people think of a dentist as a car mechanic, looking for problems to fix so they can give you a big quote. Be clear about what was included in the evaluation and asked for the quote to be written and any guarantee to be written. If it is a big quote, take a day to think about it if possible. Or, you may see the quote and know right away that it seems very high, or that it is a good price.

Exam -- See Evaluation

Extraction -- A dental extraction is the removal of a tooth from the mouth.

Simple extractions may be done by a dentist or oral surgeon, and are performed on teeth that are visible in the mouth, usually under local anesthetic. Typically the tooth is dislocated using an elevator, and subsequently using forceps, rocks the tooth back and forth until it is loosened from the alveolar bone.

Surgical extractions involve the removal of teeth that cannot be easily accessed. In a surgical extraction the dentist makes an incision in the gum to reach the tooth and may also require the removal of overlying bone tissue with a drill or osteotome. After the tooth is removed, the dentist will place material to help stop infection while the gum heals. Or, the dentist may place an implant, or perform a suture.

Surgical extractions may be performed under these conditions:

  • The tooth has only grown through the gum a little (an erupted tooth);
  • The tooth has not come in yet and is entirely under the gum;
  • One tooth is growing into or touching another tooth, often under the gums (an impacted tooth);
  • The tooth is broken under the gum line.

Extraction – regular -- A regular extraction is the easiest kind of tooth to be pulled. Usually, a regular extraction is one of the front teeth. It is not oen of the back teeth or wisdom teeth. It does not require cutting of the gums or any kind of surgery, or removal of any other teeth.

Extraction - surgical -- A surgical extraction means the gum must be cut, or some other type of surgery made, in order to pull a tooth.

Fillings -- Fillings are materials used to fill the place where a cavity has been. The dentist drills away the damaged part of the tooth, then fills it. Fillings are made from either amalgam, gold, or composite.

  • Amalgam is an alloy made by combining elemental mercury, silver, tin, copper and possibly other metallic elements. Amalgam was the standard in dental fillings for many years. It is not as popular now because the metal fillings do not look natural, and many people are concerned about the long term effects of mercury, which is a known toxin.
  • Gold has been used as a dental filling for decades. Its chemical properties allow it to be well tolerated by our bodies, and not toxic. Pure gold is quite soft, so gold is mixed with other metals to make it more durable. Gold is not as popular as it once was since it does not look natural.
  • Composite (usually acrylic) fillings are a mixture of glass or quartz filler in a resin medium that produces a tooth-colored filling. They are sometimes referred to as composites or filled resins. Composite fillings provide good durability and resistance to fracture in small-to-mid size restorations that need to withstand moderate chewing pressure. Less tooth structure is removed when the dentist prepares the tooth, and this may result in a smaller filling than that of an amalgam. Composites can also be "bonded" or adhesively held in a cavity, often allowing the dentist to make a more conservative repair to the tooth. Composites are available in different shades. A dentist might stock 4 shades, or 14, to best match the colour of your teeth.

Fissure sealing -- A sealant is a protective plastic coating, which is applied to the biting surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant forms a hard shield that keeps food and bacteria from getting into the tiny grooves in the teeth and causing decay.

Gaps -- See Diastema

General dentist -- A general dentist has graduated dental school but did not take extra schooling to specialize. The most common type of doctor is a General Practitioner. However, that GP may refer you to a Specialist.

Gingiva (gums) -- This is the name given to the soft pink tissues encircling your teeth, part of the gums. These tissues can overgrow (gingival hyperplasia), become sensitive, or become diseased or inflamed due to lack of dental care or other conditions (gingivitis). If the gums become diseased, a patient may need to haev some of the gum cut away (a gingivectomy) or re-shaped (a gingivoplasty). Many of these issues are commonly called gum disease or periodontal disease, and these procedures are performed by a periodontist.

Gingival graft -- A piece of tissue or alloplastic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.

  • Free -- A free gingival graft is a dental procedure where a layer of tissue is removed from the palate of the patient's mouth and then relocated to the site of gum recession. It is stitched into place and will serve to protect the exposed root as living tissue. The donor site will heal without damage.
  • Lateral -- A lateral graft, also known as a "pedicle" graft, takes tissue from the area immediately adjacent to the damaged gum. This is not always an option, as the constraint that there must be sufficient tissue immediately lateral to the area of interest is an onerous one. When this procedure is performed, the transplant tissue is cut away and rotated over the damaged area. This can place the donor area at risk of recession as well.
  • Subepithelial -- A subepithelial connective tissue graft takes tissue from under healthy gum tissue in the palate.

Gingivectomy -- A gingivectomy is a periodontal surgical procedure which includes the removal of gingival tissue in order to achieve a more esthetic appearance and/or functional contour.

Gold coloured -- See Fillings

Gums -- See Gingiva

Implantologist -- See Prosthodontist

Implants -- A dental implant is a metal post which takes the place of a tooth. They are used where a tooth must be fully removed. Implants were introduced somewhere between about 1990 and 2000, depending where you live. They have become very popular in the past 5 to 10 years, due to their long-lasting strength.

Implants are made of titanium or another metal which is well tolerated by our body. Ask your dentist which material is used. The implant may be a self-tapping screw, which means the dentist screws it into place in the bone, and it stays there. Dental implants are usually made in Sweden, Germany, USA, or Canada, or some other countries. Some dental implant manufacturers guarantee their implants for 10 years or more.

The process of placing an implant is done under a local anaesthetic. After the placement, a wait for between four to six months is recommended, depending on the implant that has been used.

First, the bone must heal from the surgery and the implant must be chemically integrated into your jaw bone, a process called osseointegration.

Second, the gum will usually be swollen for two to four months. This means if a crown is placed right after the implant, it will not fit properly once the gum swelling has gone down. Most dentists place a temporary crown on top of the implant, and then when the swelling has gone down and the gum line is normalized, the patient revisits the dentist. The temporary crown is taken off and the permanent crown is placed.

Because most implants have this two-stage process, be clear on what the dentist is including when they quote for an implant. Some dentists may be quoting on the surgery and implant only. Other dentists will be including all the steps of an implant:

  • Extraction of old tooth (if necessary)
  • Implant material
  • Implant placement
  • Post and core build-up (if necessary)
  • Temporary crown

Plus the follow-up visit a few months later:

  • Removal of temporary crown
  • Crown material, custom-fit
  • Crown placement

Remember that if you are traveling overseas for an implant, two trips will likely be necessary.

Dental implants are a reasonably complex procedure and it is important to have a very experienced dentist or Prosthodontist or Implantologist. It is important that you confirm how many implants your dentist has placed.

Incisor -- An incisor tooth is one of the four front teeth, on the upper or lower arch.

Inlay -- An inlay is a precise filling of ceramic or composite.

Molars -- A molar is one of your back three teeth on either side of your mouth, whether upper or lower. For those with a full set of 32 teeth, the molars at the back are often called wisdom teeth because they come later in life and can sometimes cause pain since they crowd into the end of the mouth. The three teeth on either side going toward the front are called pre-molars.

Night guards -- Night guards are worn to stop people from grinding or clenching their teeth, a condition called Bruxism which often happens at night. Also see Bruxism.

Noble -- In dentistry, noble is used to describe a strong metal that is also well-tolerated and absorbed by the body. Titanium and gold are noble metals.

Odontology -- This term is used in some Latin American and European countries. It appraoches dentistry from the aspect of medicine, and refers to a general dental practise, not a specialty.

Orthodontics -- Most adults have 32 teeth. As children our "milk" or "baby" teeth grow in, then fall out between the ages of 6 and 12. When adult teeth grow in they are larger and can lead to spacing problems or unattractive overlapping or overbite. Some children are able to have orthodontic braces to correct and straighten teeth.

Braces will be worn for one, two or more years and require adjustment every few months. Braces should only be placed and manipulated by a qualified orthodontist. The need for regular adjustments or repairs means trips to the dentist every two months or so. This is why braces are not usually a cost-effective choice for a tooth tourist. After removal of braces, a retainer is sometimes worn by the patient to keep the teeth in place.

Periodontist -- A dental specialist who has extra education, training and experience in treating diseases of the gums - the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth.

Plaque -- Plaque is a waxy, sticky, soft substance that grows on teeth, especially around gumlines, every single day. It is mostly composed of bacteria and bacterial waste, and contributes not only to bad breath but also tooth problems. Yuck! If plaque is not cleaned at least once or twice each day and between meals, bacteria can start to eat a cavity in your tooth or worse, leading to discomfort or pain. Using good brushing techniques, and using dental floss, are the easiest ways to avoid dental problems.

Porcelain -- Porcelain, or ceramic, is the restorative material preferred by most dental patients because it is the most natural-looking. However, 100% porcelain can be slightly translucent, or let some light into the material, especially around the edges. 100% porcelain also chips more easily.

Post (noble cast) -- A post made of gold.

Post and Core -- After a root canal, a post may be inserted into the dental cavity to make the tooth stronger. The core is the material to hold the post in place, and also to build up the height of the tooth if necessary, to accept a crown for the top of the tooth.

Posterior teeth -- Posterior teeth are those teeth towards the back of the mouth, such as the premolars and molars, including wisdom teeth. A dentist will sometimes charge more to work on posterior teeth because they are more difficult to reach. When obtaining a dental quote, be clear on whether the charges are for posterior or anterior teeth.

Pre-molars -- The teeth in front of the molars.

Prosthodontist -- A Prosthodontist is a specialist with addititional training and experience in restoration and replacement of teeth including implants (in the USA, 2 years of specialized training). For this reason a Prosthodonist is sometimes called an Implantologist, a dental specialist whose practice is limited to the restoration of the natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth with artificial substitutes.

Root canal -- A root canal is the pulpy space inside of the root of a tooth, and is also the procedure to repair the diseased or decaying pulp or root. The procedure can take from one to three visits.

The pulp provides nutrients and nerves to the tooth, and when the pulp is diseased or injured the pulp tissue dies. The tooth must then be removed or it will become infected. It is the presence of the nerve which has given root canals their infamy. The dentist removes the pulp (but not the nerve!) then cleans and seals the root canal. Usually a crown is placed on the tooth to help make it stronger.

Sinus lift -- This procedure only affects the maxillary sinuses which are located just over the molar teeth in the upper jaw. There are no sinuses in the lower jaw. When the maxillary sinus prevents the placement of an implant, the dentist opens up the side of the sinus and raises the bottom portion of the sinus so it will fill in with bone. The dentist can then go back several months later and place the dental implants in solid bone.

Smoking -- If you haven't quit yet, you should be aware that smoking will affect any dental work you have done. Nicotine and tar from cigarettes can affect the ability of titanium to integrate into the bone. These and other chemicals from cigarettes will affect the health of gums and cause gums to shrink and teeth to be exposed. This can lead to tooth decay. Smokers should have their teeth whitened more often. Plus, if you quit you will be able to pay for dental work more easily.

Splint -- A device used to support, protect, or immobilize oral structures that have been loosened, replanted, fractured or traumatized. Also refers to devices used in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders.

Suture -- A suture is a stitch, made by sewing with special dental thread, used to repair a wound or incision.

Veneers -- A veneer is a thin layer of material that covers your tooth like a glove, and covers or fills stains, chips or crooked surfaces. The dentist grinds he surface of your tooth about 1 millimeter or 1/16" of an inch, then attaches the veneer to your tooth with a very strong cement. Think of it as an artificial fingernail. Some dentists will guarantee a veneer for up to about 10 years. Veneers must be custom-fit for each tooth, and are usually made of porcelain, but can also be made of composite (acrylic).

Whitening -- Most whitening agents rely on a biological or chemical reaction with your calcium-based teeth. Most whitening agents do not react with unnatural teeth, crowns or fillings. Ask the dentist if the results will be even across all teeth. Annual touch-ups are available and will cost less.

There are several types of whitening procedures. Laser whitening, flouride treatments, home treatments, Zoom whitening.

Wisdom teeth -- Wisdom teeth are third molars that usually appear between the ages of 16 and 24 (although they may appear when older or younger). They are commonly extracted when they affect other teeth — this impaction is known as "coming in sideways." Most people have four wisdom teeth, but it is possible to have more or fewer.

X-Rays - Bitewing -- Bitewing x-rays are taken when the patient bites down. They are used to determine how the crowns fit together and whether there is any overbite.

X-Rays - Cephalometric -- Lateral skull X-rays.

X-Rays - Full-Mouth -- A combination of 14 or more periapical and 4 bitewing films of the back teeth. This series of x-rays reveals all the teeth (their crowns and roots) and the alveolar bone around them.

X-Rays - Panoramic -- A panoramic x-ray is like looking at your teeth with a wide angle lens. This is the kind of x-ray asked for by most dentists to assess your dental needs.

X-rays - Periapical -- An x-ray that shows several entire teeth (crowns and roots) and includes a small amount of the periapical bone (surrounding the root tips).