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Glossary

Not sure about something? Check below to quickly learn more about a subject or word that you are not sure about.

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Glossary items starting with:

Glossary items starting with: A

Abscess

An abscess is a localized infection in the bone or soft gum tissues, usually at the end of the root tip. It’s treated with antibiotics and possibly a root canal, which is performed by an endodontist.

Abutment

The natural teeth that hold a fixed or removable bridge in place are called an abutment. They about the bridge.

Amalgam

An amalgam, which means mixture, is a common filling material. It’s a mixture that usually contains mercury or silver. Alternatives are composite resins and gold or porcelain overlays.

Air Abrasion

Air abrasion devices blast teeth with a stream of air containing tiny particles of aluminum oxide. These particles remove the decayed portion of a tooth, often without the need for anesthesia, which makes it a particularly good choice for treating children’s cavities.

Anesthesia

Any drugs or procedures that relieve the sensation of pain. These include IV sedation, oral pain relievers, nitrous-oxide (gas), and Novocaine, which is delivered by local injection, among others.

Apicoectomy

This is surgery performed on the root of the tooth through the side of the gums. The root is severed at the base of the tooth, and the tooth is filled. It’s usually done when a root canal was not effective in eliminating pain or infection and, like a root canal, is usually performed by an endodontist.

Apnea or Sleep Apnea

One might not consider sleep apnea a dental issue, but this disorder, which causes a person to stop breathing during sleep (sometimes for more than 10 seconds), can be treated by a general dentist or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Autoclave

No dentist’s office is without an autoclave unit, which sterilizes instruments with steam and pressure. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires all dental offices to have sterilization procedures for dental implements that include the use of an autoclave.

Glossary items starting with: B

Bicuspids

These are the two large, double-cusped (pointed) teeth between the cuspid (canine) and the first molar in each quadrant.

Bite

The way our mouth closes and our teeth meet is referred to as our bite. Malocclusions, Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, and bruxism are all bite disorders.

Bleaching, Whitening

Bleaching is the process of whitening discolored teeth through the use of chemicals. Despite the name, the technique does not typically involve bleach but usually contains hydrogen peroxide. Sometimes lasers are used in the whitening process. Over-the-counter whiteners are usually not strong enough to whiten teeth significantly.

Bonding

A damaged or stained tooth can be bonded, or covered with a composite resin. If there is not enough healthy, natural tooth material, the correction is made with a porcelain veneer or a crown.

Braces

Orthodontists use braces to correct the bite and reposition teeth. The braces exert gradual pressure on the teeth to push them into their proper place. There are several varieties: invisible (placed on the teeth facing inside) and plastic and metal appliances.

Bridge

A bridge is a set of dental crowns covering the gap created by one or more missing teeth.

Bruxism

Quite simply, bruxism means grinding. Tooth grinding occurs involuntarily, usually during sleep, and can lead to headaches, loss of tooth surface, TMJ, and tooth cracking. Bruxism can be treated with a night guard, a custom-made appliance made from impressions of the patient’s teeth.

Glossary items starting with: C

Cavity

A cavity is a gap or hole in the structure of a tooth. Cavities can allow bacteria and contaminants to access the softer tissue and nerves within and beneath the tooth.

Calculus

More than just a difficult branch of math, calculus (or tartar) is plaque that has hardened, or calcified, thanks to the mineral salts in saliva and deposits on the teeth. It is removed during a cleaning, which prevents the buildup from tooth loss and gum disease.

Cap

(See Crown.)

Caries, Cavities

The medical term for cavities, a hole or lesion in the tooth from decay, is caries. These are usually caused by a sugar allowed to remain in the mouth and secrete acids onto the tooth enamel.

Cementum

Cementum is a thin layer of hard, calcified tissue. It covers the root surface of the tooth, connecting the root to the bone of the jaw.

Composite Filling

These days, composite fillings, made of polymer, are preferable to metal amalgams because they’re tooth colored and draw less attention to themselves in the mouth. Other options are gold or porcelain inlays.

Crown

A crown is a cover for a decayed, damaged, brittle, cracked, or discolored tooth. Most of the damaged tooth is ground away, and a porcelain or gold cover is glued on top so that it closely resembles the size, shape, and color of the tooth that was there. While the permanent crown is being prepared, a temporary version made of plastic is glued into place.

Cuspids, Canines

These are the large, single-cusped (pointed) teeth (canines) at the corners of the mouth between the incisor and the bicuspids.

Cusps

Cusps are the raised, rounded parts on tooth’s chewing surface.

Glossary items starting with: D

Deciduous Teeth

Better known as baby teeth, these are the first twenty teeth that will be replaced by adult teeth.

Dental Floss

Nylon string inserted between the teeth and moved up and down or back and forth is known as floss. It can be waxed or unwaxed. Whatever kind you choose should be used at least once a day for proper tooth and gum care. Flossing is so crucial to oral health that a saying holds: “Only floss the teeth you want to keep.”

Dentures

For those with substantial tooth loss, dentures are a set of artificial teeth for daily use. Although people often think of dentures as a replacement for a full set of teeth, partial dentures feature a limited set of teeth to help fill some gaps.

Glossary items starting with: E

Erupted Tooth

When a tooth takes its proper place in the mouth, it erupts through the gums. A partially erupted or unerupted tooth is a tooth that cannot complete the process. An impacted tooth is one that is prevented from fully erupting by other matter in the mouth.

Glossary items starting with: F

Filling

A filling is material that goes into a tooth to preserve the integrity of a tooth and prevent further bacteria from entering.

Glossary items starting with: G

Gingivitis

Gingiva is another word for gums, and gingivitis is a leading cause of gum disease. It stems from the buildup of a particular kind of bacteria in the mouth, which. if left untreated, can progress to periodontitis and lead to loss of teeth. (See more at Mayo Clinic: Gingivitis Basics and Definition.)

Gum Disease

Also called periodontitis or periodontal disease, gum disease is an inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding your teeth. If the inflammation is severe, it can cause the erosion of the tissue anchoring your teeth and can even lead to heart and artery disease. (See more at Guardian Life: Can bad teeth lead to a bad heart?.)

Glossary items starting with: P

Plaque

Plaque is the sticky film left when starchy or sugary food interact with the acids in the mouth. A buildup of plaque can irritate the gums and cause tooth decay.

Prophylaxis

Called prophy for short, prophylaxis describes any treatment designed to prevent future problems, rather than solve an existing issues. When your dentist or hygienist cleans your teeth, that’s an example of prophylaxis. Incidentally, your teeth should be cleaned at least every six months.

Prophy Jet

A prophy jet polishes the teeth with air to remove stains.

Prosthodontics

The replacement of lost or missing teeth with artificial ones—whether crown, bridge, denture, or implant—is called prosthodontics.

Pulp/Pulp Chamber

Pulp is the network of nerve tissue and blood vessels in the center of a tooth (commonly referred to as the nerve), and the chamber is the opening that stretches from the crown of the tooth to the tip of its root.

Glossary items starting with: Q

Quadrant

Teeth are divided into four sections for easy identification; there are two sections of upper teeth and two sections of lower teeth.

Glossary items starting with: R

Retainer

This device is used to maintain the position of the teeth and jaw after orthodontic treatment.

Root Canal

This procedure saves an abscessed tooth. An endodontist (typically) cleans out, disinfects, and fills the pulp chamber with a permanent filling.

Root Planning

Plaque can sometimes harden below the gum line (tartar), where it can cause infection and damage the roots of the teeth. Root planning removes the tartar. It is performed by a hygienist or dentist and is usually done one quadrant at a time.

Root Resection

Sometimes the infected root of a tooth can be removed and the crown of the tooth saved. The root resection is usually performed by an endodontist.

Glossary items starting with: S

Sealant

Children can have a sealant, a plastic coating, applied to the grooves of the teeth to prevent cavities.

Glossary items starting with: T

Tartar

See Calculus.

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw with the school. Pops and pain in the joint can be a sign of TMJ, a disorder that can cause headaches and other painful problems. It’s often caused by bruxism or injury and can be treated effectively with a bite guard.

Glossary items starting with: U

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Teeth can be cleaned ultrasonically, with high-frequency sound waves to gently remove tartar and stains.

Glossary items starting with: V

Veneers

Veneers are a type of bonding applied directly to the tooth to improve its appearance. These can be made of plastic or porcelain and have a natural appearance.

Glossary items starting with: W

Wisdom Teeth

The third set of molars is the last to come in. Wisdom teeth have very little space once the remaining teeth are in and often become impacted. When they do, they may have to be removed by oral surgery.

Glossary items starting with: X

X-ray

Dental checkups often begin with x-rays, which are used to diagnose conditions of the mouth and to look at the bone tissue of the tooth above and below the gum line.
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