Dental Definitions

Updated August 17, 2016

Periodontics? Amalgam? Bruxism? Prophylaxis? What do all these crazy words mean? Going to the dentist can sometimes cause anxiety and anticipation of what the dentist will find at your check-up as well as what he or she is telling you. For some people, it is frustrating because they do not work in or around a dental office and are not up to speed on some of the lingo and languages that the dentist or dental staff use. Here at Carefree Dental, we try to make you feel as comfortable as possible in all regards, including the language and vocabulary we use with you because dental vocabulary can be difficult to understand. There are different types of dentists, teeth, and procedures. Here are some key words and phrases that will help you understand the lingo of the industry and get the most out of your dental plans as well as help family members or your children learn the appropriate terms and definitions of commonly used dental vocabulary.

(Photo Credit: Greeblie via Flickr)



Teeth with two cusps, or rounded points, in front of the molars and behind the canine teeth. Eight out of 32 permanent teeth are bicuspids.


The four upper front teeth consisting of the upper central incisors and upper lateral incisors.


A pointed feature of a tooth's surface.


Teeth with a single cuspid. These are located near the front of the mouth and are usually referred to as "canines" or "eye teeth."


The most posterior teeth in the mouth that are suited to grinding and chewing food.



A dental specialty focusing on a tooth's nerve and root.


The tissue surrounding a tooth root's end.

Post and core

A type of dental restoration used to anchor or stabilize a tooth in preparation for a crown.


The center of a tooth consisting of nerve tissue and blood vessels.

Root canal treatment

A dental procedure used to save and repair a tooth that's become infected or has decayed. The treatment involves the removal of the tooth pulp.



A specialty field of dentistry that focuses on straightening crooked teeth and/or jaws with surgical treatments or braces.


A common misalignment of the upper and lower teeth that is generally not serious enough to require treatment, though orthodontics can correct the problem.


Custom-made devices that stabilize teeth following any type of realignment.


Pediatric Dentistry

The dental specialty that focuses on treating children.

Nursing bottle syndrome

Rapid decay of an infant's or child's baby teeth caused by a prolonged exposure to sugary liquids.

Pediatric dentist

A dentist who specializes in the oral health of children from infancy through adolescence.


A preventative dental treatment made of plastic that covers a tooth's chewing surface in order to prevent tooth decay.



The specialty treatment of periodontal disease, which involves the health of the supporting tissue, gums, and bone.


Gum inflammation caused by a buildup of food particles or plaque that, if left untreated, can result in a bacterial infection.

Periodontitis/gum disease

Chronic gum tissue inflammation that results in the loss of tissue membranes and the supporting bone surrounding tooth roots.

Root planing

A periodontal treatment that consists of removing tartar and bacteria by scraping the roots of a tooth.



An area of dentistry that focuses on prosthetics. Artificial materials are used to replace missing teeth, such as dentures or bridges.


Tooth replacements designed to bridge the gap between missing teeth. A bridge consists of two crowns to anchor the bridge with an artificial replacement tooth in between.


A complete or partial set of artificial teeth on a removable plate or base that rests directly on the gums.


A surgically placed anchor set in the bone used to support a bridge.


Replacement teeth held in place by dental implants.


Also called a "dummy tooth," the pontic is the part of a bridge that replaces missing teeth.



The use of artificial materials to replace and restore a damaged or missing tooth.


Durable, cost-effective silver fillings made from a mixture of silver, copper, tin, and mercury.

Cast restoration

A dental procedure that involves obtaining a model of a tooth to make a casting, such as a crown, that will replace missing parts.


An artificial tooth covering made of porcelain or metal that covers a weakened, chipped, severely damaged, or decayed tooth.


A solid cast filling that is smaller than a crown but bigger than a filling and is cemented into place.


Filling material that is the color of natural teeth, so it's generally used on the front teeth. Resin fillings look more natural than amalgam fillings, but they are less durable.


Other Dental Terms


The gradual wearing down of a tooth's surface from clenching, grinding, or malocclusions.


A whitening technique used for stained teeth.


A simple cosmetic procedure that uses composite resin to repair cracked, chipped, discolored, gapped, or misshapen teeth.


An involuntary, habitual teeth grinding that typically occurs during sleep.


More commonly referred to as tooth decay or cavities, caries is the breakdown of a tooth due to bacteria.


Also called lumineers or veneers, these overlays are placed on a crown or front of a tooth for a more natural smile.

Impacted tooth

A tooth that becomes blocked and unlikely to grow out on its own as it is pushing its way through the gums. Wisdom teeth are often impacted.

Laminate veneer

A thin porcelain or plastic shell designed to cover damaged or stained teeth. Veneers are cemented to a tooth's surface for a natural appearance.


A sticky tooth deposit containing bacteria that can result in gum irritation and tooth decay.


A professional dental cleaning that removes plaque and stains. Regular cleanings help prevent dental disease.

Well, what did you think? Can you now define bruxism? How about amalgam? Even if you cannot remember the exact definition of each word, you now have seen the written word which helps many people when they hear the word verbally. They are more in tune to the vocabulary now that they have spent some time reading up on it. We are always learning in life and learning new words about the structures of the mouth and the anatomy of the human body just makes you grow more as an individual.

Now remember, this is just a small sample of the dental vocabulary that is used out there today. There may be other words you hear regarding your teeth and oral structures that you do not recognize or understand, and that is okay. Just be sure to ask one of our dental team members here at Carefree Dental and we would be happy to assist you with your questions.


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