Dental Glossary

dental glossary

Glossary of Common Dental Health Terms 

Are you curious about common dental terms and what they mean? Are you searching for a glossary of dental terms? You’re in the right place. There are certain dental office terminology dentists and their staff use daily – while communicating with each other and patients – and it’s not always easy to keep track of them all.

Understanding basic dental terms is an excellent way to prepare for your appointment and learn more about different treatments and procedures your dentist may offer. Knowing the lingo can also help you relax during your appointment and improve communication between you and your dentist to work together to keep your smile healthy and beautiful.


A tooth infection, or toothache, is also known as an abscess. You may experience inflammation and swelling in the affected area of the tooth.

Cosmetic Bonding

Bonding is a process that can help restore the shape of a broken or chipped tooth. It usually involves mechanically attaching tooth colored dental materials to the tooth, which is typically composite resin.


A crown is a custom tooth restoration for a compromised tooth.  Crowns can restore teeth to their original shape and size by cementing a cap to the top of the vulnerable tooth or an implant. This can be necessary after a root canal, large cavities, breakages, or tooth lose (implant crown).   It can be made out of ceramic, zirconia, metals or a combination of all three.

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Cleaning or Prophylaxis

You may set up regularly occurring appointments with your dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Your dentist will clean your teeth at your appointment by removing plaque and tartar above your gum line to help keep your teeth happy and healthy.

Decay or Caries

Bacteria can often cause tooth decay, which can sometimes result in the decomposition of the tooth structure. Decay is also referred to as caries or cavities.


Dentistry is a branch of medicine that includes the study of the mouth. It can consist of the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of certain conditions relating to the teeth, tongue, gums, jaws, and palate.

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Dentures are removable or permanent artificial teeth meant to be a substitute for having no teeth.  A dentist may use partial dentures when some natural teeth remain and complete dentures to replace all of the original teeth.


Enamel refers to the hard tissue covering the outside, or crown, of the tooth that lies above the gum line. Protecting your mouth’s enamel is crucial to the health of your teeth and gums.


Extraction is the safe removal of a tooth from the mouth. You might also hear this referred to as a tooth extraction. 

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A filling is a common dental term used for restoring lost tooth structure with materials such as alloy, plastic, metal or porcelain. 


You may hear your dentist mention that fluoride is excellent for your teeth. Fluoride is a type of mineral that helps strengthen teeth enamel which can prevent tooth decay. You can find it in most toothpaste brands, or it may be applied as a gel or liquid by your dentist.  Beneficial when paired with child and adult dental cleanings.


Gingivitis is a type of gum disease. Its most common characteristics are inflamed, red and swollen gums. You may notice that your gums easily bleed when brushing if you have gingivitis. If it’s not treated, gingivitis could lead to tooth decay.

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Impacted Tooth

An impacted tooth is a tooth that is blocked from coming through the gums. In some cases, dentists recommend removing impacted teeth because they can cause other teeth to shift and push them together, resulting in your teeth becoming crooked or damaging other tooth structures. 

Mouth Guards

mouthguard is a device to protect and prevent injury to the teeth, most commonly used in sports. A dentist can individually mold them to fit your teeth and mouth for maximum comfort.


An overbite is an overlap of the front teeth over the bottom teeth. It’s often caused by a protrusion of the upper jaw, causing the teeth to overlap. Alternatively, an underbite is when your bottom jaw extends past your upper jaw so your bottom teeth protrude forward.

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Food particles mixed with bacteria and saliva form a sticky substance known as plaque that develops on teeth. Plaque can sometimes turn into tartar which can cause tooth decay. Regular cleaning appointments with your dentist will help remove plaque from your teeth, keeping them healthy.


Orthodontists provide retainers to patients after the patient finishes their braces treatment. Retainers stabilize the teeth and prevent them from moving back to their original crooked state. This “gear” is custom-fit to the patient’s mouth.

Root Canals

A root canal refers to the cavity inside the root of a tooth. You may also hear the term root canal therapy, which refers to treating the root canal. This procedure can involve cleaning and filling the cavity with a permanent filling. Root canal therapy is considered one of the most frequently performed tooth saving treatments performed by dentists.

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Scaling is the process of removing plaque, tartar and stains from the teeth. It’s common for your dentist to perform scaling during routine cleaning appointments and check-ups.


A sealant can help prevent tooth decay by adding a resin substance to a tooth located towards the back of your mouth. Sealants are useful in adults as well as children.

Traditional Braces and Invisible Braces

Braces are a standard treatment to correct misaligned and crooked teeth offered by dentists and orthodontists. They can help with issues such as overbites and straightening crooked teeth. Traditional Braces consist of bands and wires connected to each tooth to gradually reposition your teeth so they’re straight. Invisible Braces, also referred to as clear aligners, work a bit differently than conventional or traditional braces.  These aligners require no metal brackets or wire forces to move teeth, rather, custom clear trays work to gently and gradually push teeth into better alignment.    

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are molars, which are usually the last teeth to come through. They typically start to come through between the ages of 17 and 21. Depending on the alignment of your teeth, an orthodontist may need to remove wisdom teeth before they come through so they don’t shift or move any of your teeth.

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Have Your Dental Questions Answered at Family Dentistry of New Jersey

Understanding dentist terms and what they mean is an excellent way to relax before your upcoming dentist appointment and begin to familiarize yourself with some common dental terms. There are many professional terminologies out there, and unless you have a dental terms dictionary on hand, it’s tricky to know them all.

That’s why at Family Dentistry of New Jersey, we’re committed to providing you person-centered care so we can answer your questions before, during and after your appointment. We’re dedicated to providing a supportive environment that helps you live your best life with happy teeth and gums.

Contact our team or call us at 732-458-2288 if you have any questions or are curious about specific dental procedures.