A Glossary of Dental Terms

There are many terms used daily by dentists and their staff in the course of delivering care to patients. Following is a list of dental terms and their accompanying descriptions.


A pus filled infection of a tooth, caused by tooth decay or trauma to the tooth.


The attachment for the replacement tooth, crown, or bridge.

Acid etching

The use of an acidic substance to prepare the tooth’s natural enamel for the application of an adhesive.

Adhesive bridge

An adhesive bridge is a replacement tooth by means of bridgework where the missing tooth is kept in place by one or two “wings” bonded to adjacent teeth. This type of bridge requires minimal tooth preparation but is less retentive than the prepared bridge where adjacent teeth are crowned.


A material used as a dressing for post-extraction cases, and also as a treatment for infection and pain in dry socket conditions.

Amalgam core

A core of amalgam is used to support a crown and also to replace lost tooth structure.


A root canal sealer, but there are many.

Apical area

The area around the tooth apex or tip. An area of translucency may indicate bone loss caused by infection.


A surgical procedure to remove an infected tooth root tip, clean out the surrounding infection and place a filling to cap and seal off the new end of the tooth.


Dental cement.

Articulating Paper

Red or blue paper that is placed between the teeth to show high spots.


An articulator is a mechanical hinged device used in dentistry to which plaster casts of the maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) jaw are fixed, reproducing some or all the movements of the mandible in relation to the maxilla.

Bite raising appliance

An appliance usually of a removable design that covers the biting surfaces of the teeth and separates them. It assists with the relief of TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) problems.


A plastic shield, usually worn at night used to protect teeth from stress.


A small radiograph showing the biting surfaces of the teeth, used to check for new or recurrent decay.

BPC – Bonded Porcelain Crown

A crown consisting of a gold shell overlaid with porcelain to give an aesthetic appearance. (Same as a porcelain bonded crown)

Bone Augmentation

Bone augmentation/bone graft is a term that describes a variety of procedures used to build bone so that dental implants can be placed.

BPE (CPITN) Basic periodontal index

The BPE score is a measurement on a scale of 0-4 of the health of the gingival and periodontal tissues around the teeth. A scale of 0 indicates absence of disease while a score of 1 is the lowest score which records the presence of disease around any tooth in the sextant and implies that at some site there was evidence of bleeding after gentle probing but there was no pocketing present deeper than 3 mm. Scores higher than 2 are indicative of more severe levels of disease.


An Orthodontic appliance that is used to correct misaligned teeth.


Replacing a missing tooth by means of fixing a false tooth (pontic) to crowns fixed to adjacent teeth (abutments).


The buccal surface of the tooth is the part of the tooth that touches the cheek, as opposed to the palatal surface of the tooth, which would be the side of the tooth that touches the tongue.

Cantilever Bridge

A cantilever bridge is a false tooth (pontic) where only one tooth (abutment) acts as a support.


Dental term for bacterial decay causing cavities.

Carious exposure

Where the decay has entered the pulp (nerve) of a tooth, this will lead to an infection or abscess.


Filling material for temporary restoration of cavities


The cervical margin of a tooth is the surface above the junction of the crown of the tooth and the root of the tooth.


A dental material used for aesthetic fillings.

Chrome Cobalt (denture)

Cobalt Chrome dentures have a metal base plate or framework that sits on and around the natural teeth onto which denture teeth are attached by acrylic. A Chrome cobalt denture is stronger and more comfortable to wear than a plastic denture and less harmful to gum tissues.

Chronic marginal gingivitis

Chronic inflammation of the gum margins around the teeth.

Chronic adult periodontitis

This is a severe breakdown of the periodontal tissues surrounding the teeth which holds them into the jawbone and often also results in loss of jawbone. It is caused by the body’s reaction to the bacteria around the teeth. Chronic adult periodontal disease can cause tooth mobility, is very serious, but can often be difficult for dentists to detect due to no pain being felt by the patient. Treatment is by fine scaling, root planing, local medicaments, careful attention to oral hygiene, various advanced forms of surgical correction are also often used.

Class One (Occlusion)

The normal biting pattern between upper and lower teeth.

Close Bite

Where the opposing teeth are in tight contact, usually applied to the upper and lower front teeth.


A dental restorative material.

Core Buildup

When a tooth is broken down and needs a crown. An additional section is made using artificial materials until it is built up enough to receive a crown.


Coronal is the direction of or relating to the crown of the tooth.


Corsodyl Treatment Mouthwash is clinically proven to help treat the early signs of gum disease, (gingivitis).


A chemical cleaner used in root canal treatments for disinfection purposes, now being replaced by less astringent substitutes.


A false tooth also known as a cap: this is a customised, oval shaped covering made from porcelain which fits over a damaged tooth.

CT Scan

A sectional x ray scan used mainly in implant diagnostic procedures.

Deciduous teeth

First or “baby” teeth, there are twenty deciduous teeth also known as milk teeth.

Dentatus screw post

A screw post often used for supporting temporary crowns.


The part of the tooth that is beneath the enamel and cementum, it is less dense than enamel and less resistant to decay.


Artificial substitute for natural teeth and adjacent tissues.


A space or gap between two teeth. Midline diastema is a gap between the front teeth.


Anti inflammatory antiseptic mouth rinse.


Towards the back of the mouth.


Abbreviation for ‘Distal Occlusal’, a filling extending across the top and back of a tooth.

Dry Socket

A painful exposed bone or nerve in the space where an extracted tooth used to reside.


A fluoride varnish used to desensitise teeth and remineralise softened enamel.


A sedative cement lining material used under a filling.


Temporary filling material.


Dental instrument used to extract teeth.


Hard calcified tissue covering dentin of the crown of tooth.


A dental treatment focusing on a tooth’s nerve and root. The most common procedure is a root canal treatment.


A formaldehyde material used in root fillings, it is irritant if it goes through the root apex and although widely used by general dentists it is not used by endodontists for this reason.


A term applied to the penetration into the pulp of the tooth either by the progress of untreated decay or the dental drill.

Fissure sealing

A filling of the crevices in the surface of a premolar or molar tooth with a clear resin, to help prevent decay starting.


Antibiotic specifically used to treat gum infections.


Dental cement used for permanently cementing crowns, bridges, or temporary fillings.

Full Lower

A complete lower denture where all the teeth have been extracted.


The area where the roots in a tooth divide.


Clinical term used to describe the gums.


Surgical removal of gum pocket or excess gum.

Glass Ionomer

Restorative dental cement that can be used as a lining under fillings or as a filling material in positions where compressive or abrasive forces are light.


Abbreviation of ‘Gutta Percha’ used to fill root canals during root canal treatment.


Removal of the (infected) root of a multi rooted tooth.


A substance used for sterilising the root canal, it contains calcium hydroxide.


A defect during the development of the teeth. Often seen as spots or discoloured areas on the teeth.

Immediate denture

A technique where teeth are extracted and a denture immediately fitted during the same visit.


A false root usually made of titanium which is inserted into the jawbone, where a crown, bridge or denture may then be retained by the implant.


The biting edge of an anterior (front) tooth.

Inferior Dental Canal

This is a canal in the lower jaw (mandible) which supplies sensation to the lower lip, lower teeth, and chin area.


A composite or porcelain solid filling made by a dental technician. Usually made of gold.

Integrated (osseo integration)

This refers to the growing of the bone in the jaw to bond a titanium implant.

Intraoral X-Ray

Small radiograph (X-Ray) of the teeth.


A temporary filling material.

Lateral periodontal abscess

An abscess on the side of the root of a tooth.


A sedative dressing under a filling or during root canal treatment.


A tooth surface pointing towards the tongue.


Upper and lower teeth which are crooked or out of position.


The lower jaw.

Mandibular nerve

The nerve that supplies the lower teeth.

Maryland adhesive bridge

A bridge which is attached to adjacent teeth by means of “wings” that are glued behind the adjacent teeth.


The upper jaw.


Towards the front part of the mouth.


Antibiotic commonly used to treat dental infection.


Abbreviation for ‘Mesial Occlusal’, a filling that goes across the top and front of a tooth.


Abbreviation for ‘Mesial Occlusal Distal’, a filling that goes across the top of a tooth including both the front and back part, (Mesial and Distal).

Mouth guard

A plastic appliance that fits over the biting surface of the teeth to protect against trauma or grinding.

Nerve (root) canal

Hollow passage inside of a tooth, inhabited by nerve tissue.


The top biting surfaces of the teeth.


The way the upper and lower teeth bite together. There are 3 classes of type of occlusion, type 1,2 or 3.


Filling or cast filling used to cover the surface of a tooth.


Abbreviation for ‘Orthopantograph’.  A full mouth x-ray showing both the upper and lower teeth and jawbone.

Oro antral fistula

Communication between the mouth and the maxillary sinus.


A dentist who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of development disorders of the mouth


Fits over a root or retainer or implant left in the jawbone.

PA – Periapical X-Ray 

An intra oral X-Ray (taken with the X-Ray film in the mouth) showing the entire tooth structure, above and below the gum and including images of the surrounding teeth.


Towards the palate or roof of the mouth.


A type of dental cement.


Preformed metal post used to support a crown in a root filled tooth.

Partial dentures

A partial denture replaces some missing teeth as opposed to a full denture.

PBC – Porcelain Bonded Crown

Porcelain covered over a gold full crown. (Same as a bonded porcelain crown).


The tissue surrounding a tooth root’s end.


Inflammation or infection of the soft tissues surrounding the crown of a partially erupted tooth.

Periodontal ligament

Connecting ligament between the root of a tooth and the bony socket.


Treatment of gum problems.


Abbreviation for Prolonged gum treatment. Requiring more than one visit for scaling, polishing and root surface debridement.


Small threaded pin placed in a tooth to support a filling.


Abbreviation for Porcelain Jacket crown.

Pocket depth

The amount of space between the gum line and the jawbone. Measured in mm.

Pocket charting

A guide to the health of the teeth and gums by measurement of bone support around teeth using a round-ended probe.

Poly F

Permanent cement for crowns, bridges, inlays and orthodontic brackets.


The Pontic is the part of a bridge that replaces missing teeth.


Placed in a tooth root, and used to support a crown, made of metal or fibre.

Post Crown

A crown that is supported by means of a post placed into the root canal of a tooth, and to which a crown can be attached.

Precision attachment

A special attachment that is used to ensure a precision fit between say a tooth crown/implant and a denture.

Pulp (nerve)

The chamber inside a tooth, below the enamel and dentin, which contains the nerves and blood vessels.


Inflammation of the pulp (nerve), caused by a cavity or other trauma, and often signalled by a painful toothache.


A procedure a dentist may use to preserve your tooth when portions of a tooth’s pulp is injured.


Radiation projected on photographic film, from x-rays.


A technique for tightening a loose denture to improve the fit of the filling surface of the denture.


A retainer is a custom-made, removable or fixed appliance that helps teeth maintain their new position after braces have been removed.


Abbreviation for regional dental officer.

Retrograde (root filling)

The sealing of the root apex of a tooth following an apicectomy.


The embedded portion of a tooth that connects it to the jaw.

Root canal

The space inside the root of the tooth. This space contains the pulp.

Root canal therapy

The removal of the nerve (pulp) from of a heavily decayed or damaged tooth, the central pulp space of the tooth is filled and sealed with dental cement.

Root Planing

A deep form of scaling that consists of removing tartar and bacteria by scraping the roots of a tooth.

Rubber Dam

Sheet of rubber used to isolate the teeth from oral fluids, specifically used in root canal therapy.

S and P

Abbreviation for scale and polish.


A sedative dressing material for temporary fillings.

Selective grinding

A procedure where the biting surfaces of the teeth are reshaped.


A desensitising toothpaste.


Thin metal oil able to accurately detect high spots in any restoration or natural tooth occlusions.


Hollow cavity in the upper jawbone.

Soft Lining

Used to cushion the gums, it is a flexible material that is bonded to the fitting surface of a denture.

Spoon Denture

Usually a single toothed denture attached to a spoon-shaped piece of plastic that sits on the palate. They are held in place by the surface tension of saliva between plastic and palate.


Below the gum margin.


An extra tooth, usually smaller and malformed to the normal complement.


Above the gum margin.


Abbreviation for Tenderness to percussion where a tooth is tapped to test if infection or an abscess is present.


Temporary cement.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

Temporomandibular joint syndrome and TMJ joint disorders are medical problems related to the jaw joint. The TMJ connects the lower jaw to the skull.


The removal of a tooth and placement in a different area of the mouth, usually a tooth socket.


Root canal sealer with extended working time.


Used within cosmetic dentistry to improve the appearance of a tooth: it is a natural coloured shell, made from porcelain usually confined to the premolar and anterior teeth.

Dental negligence compensation claims

If you have suffered as a result of dental negligence and would like to make a compensation claim, Paul Crowley & Co Solicitors Limited are here to help, please call our specialist dental negligence team on 0151 264 7363 we may be able to represent you on a NO WIN NO FEE basis.


For free no obligation legal advice call our dental negligence team now on 0151 264 7363 or email us.

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