Word of Appreciation

Updated: 03/08/2011

Dental Terminology

A | B | C | D | E | F | G H | I J K | L | M N | O | P Q | R | S | T | U | V W | X Y Z
— A —
ABSCESS Localized collection of pus in a cavity formed by the breakdown of tissue cells.
ACUTE CONDITION A type of illness or injury that has a rapid onset and ordinarily lasts less than 3 months. (Pregnancy is also considered to be an "acute condition" despite lasting longer than 3 months).
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE A more holistic approach to healing which includes taking responsibility for your own body’s health, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
ANAEROBIC BACTERIA Those organisms that cannot live easily in the presence of oxygen.
ANKYLOGOSSIA Commonly called (tongue-tie). It is usually a hereditary congenital defect where the frenum, the thin web-like connection under the tongue, is very short or is attached close to the tip of the tongue. This can limit the movement of the tongue, interfering with speech, and in an infant, make breastfeeding difficult.
ANTIBIOTICS Drugs used to combat both minor and life-threatening bacterial infections. Most effective in acute planktonic infections. Less effective in chronic (biofilm) infections.
AVOID GUM SURGERY Implementing a disciplined and efficient daily self-care program of good oral hygiene is necessary for those who want to prevent problems and crucial for those who have already been told they need gum surgery. With the proper oral hygiene techniques (effectively removing the bacterial biofilms in the mouth), maintaining a good diet, and supporting a healthy immune system, one can avoid having surgery to remove swollen, infected gum tissues for the purpose of arresting a periodontal infection. This is certainly a kinder, more natural, and more holistic approach. With the absence of infection, the body can heal itself.
— B —
BICUSPIDS Also called premolars, these are the two teeth behind the cuspids or eyeteeth. There are a total of 8.

A sophisticated collection of germ life. Thought to have its own “intelligence,” a biofilm lives in a defensive slime environment that protects it against the immune system and makes healing difficult. Biofilms are found everywhere in nature that a solid surface comes in contact with water. A biofilm infection is generally antibiotic resistant and lives in chronic, long-standing wounds, such as advanced periodontal infections.


Diseases caused by highly organized collections of bacterial slime (biofilms) that impede the body’s natural defense mechanisms and make it difficult to heal.


According to the National Center for Health Statistics, is defined as the first weight of the newborn obtained after birth.

Low birth weight is defined as less than 2,500 grams or 5 pounds 8 ounces.

Very low birth weight is defined as less than 1,500 grams or 3 pounds 4 ounces.

— C —

Hard, calcified dental plaque. It is the mineralized remains of dead bacteria attached to surfaces of the teeth. Also called "tartar."

There are two types of calculus: that which forms above the gingival margins, called supragingival calculus, and that which forms on roots below the gingival margins, called subgingival calculus.

CARIOUS LESION An area of decay on a tooth.
CAVITRON Ultrasonic dental tool that uses high frequency sound waves to remove hard deposits from the teeth.
CEMENTUM Hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth. Teeth are held in place by connective tissue fibers, the periodontal ligament that attaches the cementum to the bony sockets in the jaws.
CHARTING To record the depth of the gingival (gum) pockets and the pathology in the mouth (decay, missing or impacted teeth, etc.).
CLORHEXIDINE An anti-microbial agent effective in controlling gum diseases.
CREVICULAR Of or relating to the gingival crevice.
— D —
DEBRIDEMENT Removal of infection (biofilm) from a wound.
DENTAL CARIES Tooth decay.

A dental professional who is trained, licensed, and registered to perform certain duties. Each state has its own regulations and standards but many allow the RDH to do the following:

  • Screen patients, take medical histories and do dental charting
  • Examine patients (head, neck, and mouth) for disease
  • Take x-rays and interpret them
  • Apply dental sealants and fluoride
  • Remove hard and soft deposits from teeth, above and below the gum line
  • Provide education and counseling in the prevention of dental disease
  • Counsel on nutrition and smoking cessation as well as whole body health
  • Administer local anesthetics and nitrous oxide sedation
DENTIFRICE Any preparation used in the cleaning of the teeth.
DENTIN Hard, living inner layer of a tooth just below the enamel layer.
DENTIST A person who is trained and licensed in oral care (care of the mouth). The dentist's domain is the treatment of diseases of the teeth, gums, and related structures of the mouth.
DIASTEMA A space or gap between two teeth, most frequently found between the upper central incisors (upper front teeth).
DISTAL The surface that faces toward the back, away from the midline of the jaw.
Occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth don't produce enough moisture, disrupting the balance of normal microorganisms in your mouth. This dryness increases your risk of oral thrush (yeast), dental caries, and periodontal infections.
— E —
The hardest substance of the body, the covering of the crown of the tooth, located above the gum line.
EYE TEETH The four canines or cuspids.
— F —
FACIAL Pertaining to the face. The outer side of a tooth, that side facing the face
FLAP SURGERY Surgery that involves the loosening of gums from bone to expose and debride the periodontal pocket as well as the underlying tooth structures.
FRENUM Also called frenulum. A chord-like membrane of tissue that connects the floor of the mouth to the tongue. In the mouth, there are two primary locations where frenum are found: under the tongue, called the lingual frenum; and underneath the center of the upper lip, called the labial frenum. If the lingual frenum is very short, it limits tongue movement and can make speech difficult. Under the upper lip, it can cause gum recession and cause a space between the front teeth (called a diastema).
— G H —

Approximately 3 percent to 5 percent of pregnant women in the United States develop gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes mellitus, usually beginning in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Like other forms of diabetes, it affects the way your body uses blood sugar (glucose). In many cases, it goes away after pregnancy, but more than 50% of women who experience this condition later develop a permanent form of diabetes — type 2 (formerly called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent) diabetes.

GINGIVA, GINGIVAE The anatomical word for the gums.
GINGIVAL The adjective pertaining to the gums.
GINGIVECTOMY Surgery to remove gum tissue.
GINGIVITIS The initial stage of gum disease that is caused by pathogenic bacteria that reside in the gingival crevices (under the gums). This initial stage of gingival disease may progress into destructive periodontitis. The gums usually become red, swollen, bleed easily, and are often tender to touch.
GUM DISEASE Infections of the gingivae (gums) which include gingivitis — the acute, early stage of inflammation which is characterized by sore bleeding gums — and more advanced stages of periodontitis, with its graduating severity (measured by gingival pockets and bone loss).
GUM RECESSION See “receding gums
GUM SURGERY A dental procedure involving excision of the gums with instruments or lasers, performed to repair damage or arrest disease. Often these surgeries are recommended for periodontal (biofilm) infections; however, I believe patients should be offered an alternative treatment solution that avoids gum surgery. Often very successful is a more holistic, non-surgical option for treating gum disease, in which patients are taught how to take control of their own mouths and improve their condition with meticulous and disciplined oral hygiene as well as scaling, wound debridement, and irrigation.
GUMS Also called gingivae. Those soft tissues, covered by mucous membrane, surround and support the teeth. They are generally a light pink in color when they are healthy.
HOLISTIC GUM TREATMENT A kinder, less invasive way to treat gum disease without resorting to gum surgery. Holistic gum treatment can enable you to avoid gum surgery.
— I J K —
INCISORS Four upper and four lower front teeth, the central and lateral incisors (excludes the canine teeth).

Artificial device usually made from titanium, surgically placed in the jaw to substitute for a natural tooth root. Prosthetic teeth and bridges are attached to the part of the implant that protrudes through the gum.

An implant functions like a natural tooth and needs to have the same care or will be lost through the same process of infection, called peri-implantitis rather than periodontitis.


Using an electrical device or shower irrigator to force pulsating jets of warm water in a slim stream into the spaces between the teeth and gums for the purpose of disorganizing and dispersing harmful bacterial plaques.

— L —
LAVAGE Washing out or cleansing with water.
LINGUAL Pertaining to the tongue. That side of a tooth that faces the tongue.
LOW BIRTH WEIGHT See “birth weight
— M N  —
MAINTENANCE THERAPY or RECALL THERAPY An ongoing program, designed to supplement the anti-infective self-care that patients use at home. This treatment, usually every 3-4 months, includes the professional examination of teeth and periodontal tissues for evidence of disease activity. Teeth are then scaled and polished, and pockets are irrigated with an antiseptic solution.
MALOCCLUSION "Bad bite" between the upper and lower teeth, causing your teeth to align incorrectly
MAMA GUMS Sheila Wolf's pseudonym. Sheila Wolf is a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), who is dedicated to altering oral health through educating and empowering her patients to take control of and responsibility for their own mouths. Her message is found throughout this website. » More about Mama Gums
MANDIBLE The lower jaw.
MAXILLA The upper jaw.
MESIAL The surface (of the tooth) that faces closer to the front or to the midline of the jaw.
MICROBIOLOGICAL Pertaining to microorganisms and their effects on other living organisms.
MOLARS The three back teeth in each quarter of the mouth, including the wisdom teeth.
MORNING SICKNESS The overall queasiness, nausea, or vomiting that many pregnant women experience during the first 12 to 14 weeks of their pregnancy.
MOUTH INFECTION Any bacterial infection of the teeth, gums, bone, and surrounding soft and hard tissues of the mouth and jaw.
— O —
OCCLUSAL The surface of the tooth that is used for chewing.
OCCLUSION How the upper and lower teeth come together.
ORAL HYGIENE The process of maintaining the cleanliness of the mouth.
ORAL INFECTION See “Mouth Infection
ORAL SURGEON A dental professional who is trained to correct a wide variety of diseases, defects, and injuries in the head and neck, face and jaws, and the hard and soft tissues of the mouth and face. Oral Surgery is one of the nine specialties of dentistry.
OSSEOINTEGRATION The attachment and assimilation of the bone to a dental implant. This process takes from three to six months after the implant has been placed in the mouth.
— P Q  —
PALATINE, PALATAL Related to the hard or soft palate.
PAPILLA, PAPILLAE The cone shaped portion of gum tissue between the teeth
PARTIAL DENTURE Removable denture replacing some of the teeth often lost through gum disease.
PATHOGENIC Disease-causing.

See “Clorhexidine

PERIODONTAL LIGAMENT The fibers of tissue that attach the teeth to the bone. When these ligaments are destroyed by advanced cases of periodontal disease, the teeth become loose.
PERIODONTAL POCKET A separation of the gum tissues surrounding the tooth forming a space or pocket. The pocket fills with plaque and infection. If not treated, the bone and connective tissue surrounding the tooth may become so severely damaged that the tooth will fall out or need to be extracted.
PERIODONTAL DISEASE(S) Include gingivitis, rapidly advancing destructive periodontitis, and chronic destructive periodontitis.

A dental professional who specializes in treating gum infections. Extensively trained in surgery, periodontists most often recommend surgery to treat these infections; however, I believe many patients can avoid gum surgery with meticulous and disciplined oral hygiene as well as scaling, wound debridement, and irrigation.


Infections caused by invasive biofilm bacteria that colonize root surfaces and the periodontal tissues that surround them. Various types of periodontal disease affect 80% or more of the American adult population. Untreated, destructive periodontitis will progress until the body, trying to protect itself, will cause the teeth to loosen and eventually fall out.

PERIODONTIUM The tissues that surround and support the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligament and bone.
PERIODONTOPATHIC Causing periodontal diseases.
PERMANENT TEETH The thirty-two adult teeth.
PINK IN THE SINK An indicator of a possible gum infection. If you spit out blood during toothbrushing, that is NOT considered normal. It is a sign that something is wrong in your mouth. Not only could it mean you have gingivitis, but if this condition advances, it could lead to serious medical issues. The good news is that with effective oral hygiene and daily maintenance, this mild gingivitis is entirely reversible.
PLANKTONIC BACTERIA Free-floating microscopic organisms not attached to a surface. They are differentiated from the aggregate biofilm bacteria. Treating these bacterial infections with antibiotics is often successful.
PLAQUE or DENTAL PLAQUE or BACTERIAL PLAQUE Also called bacterial biofilms. These soft, yellowish-white, “cheese-like” deposits contain microscopic organisms that colonize in large communities on tooth surfaces above and below the gum margins. If plaque is not removed carefully each day by brushing, irrigating, and interproximal (in-between) cleaning and disinfection, bacteria attached to tooth surfaces die and harden from the minerals in the saliva and crevicular exudates. These mineralized deposits are called calculus or tartar.
PREGNANCY An extraordinary chain of events that begins with the union of egg and sperm and the preparation of the body to provide the nourishment and hormones that govern the baby's growth and development
PREGNANCY GINGIVITIS An acute, often-reversible inflammation of the gums during pregnancy where a woman’s gum tissues become swollen, tender, and bleed easily due to the ineffective removal of bacterial plaque around the teeth and gums. Exacerbated by the increase in hormones in preparation for childbirth, this condition can be avoided or controlled by excellent oral hygiene.
PREGNANCY TUMOR A large lump or overgrowth of gum tissue that is not cancerous, generally is not painful, and usually disappears or diminishes after pregnancy. If the tumor persists, it may require removal by a periodontist or oral surgeon.
PRE-TERM BABY A baby born before 40 weeks in the mother’s uterus.
PREVENT GUM DISEASE Doing what is necessary to avoid infections around your teeth and gums by taking good care of yourself. This includes supporting your immune system as well as preventing the accumulation of bacterial plaque around your teeth and gums by mechanical and chemical means.
PROXIMAL The surfaces nearest to or next to.
PYOGENIC GRANULOMA Another name for pregnancy tumor.
— R —

Also called gum recession. Exposure of the roots of the teeth caused by a loss of gum tissue or a pulling away of the gums from the crowns of the teeth. Symptoms can include:

  • Sensitive teeth (sensitivity from hot, cold, sweet, sour, or spicy foods)
  • Teeth that may appear longer than normal
  • Change in the tooth’s color (differences between color of enamel and cementum)
  • Cavities below the gum line.
ROOT The below the gum part of tooth that anchors the tooth to the bone.
ROOT SCALING and PLANING A non-surgical procedure where the hygienist, dentist, or periodontist removes soft bacterial plaques and their calcified remains (calculus) from tooth surfaces and periodontal pockets.
— S —
SCALING Removal of hardened deposits of tartar and stain on the teeth, above and below the gum line.
(as related to the mouth)
The casting off of the outside layer of skin or gum tissue.
SORE BLEEDING GUMS The result (in the gums) of a bacterial infection, injury, or trauma, of the soft tissues of the mouth surrounding the teeth.
SPECIFIC PLAQUE HYPOTHESIS An assertion by Dr. Walter Loesche that specific bacteria cause gum infections. Among the culprits are: Porphyromonas gingivalis, Bacteroides forsythus, and Treponema denticola.
SUPRAGINGIVAL Above the gum line.
SUBGINGIVAL Below the gum line.
SWOLLEN GUMS Inflammation of the gingivae (gums) due to a collection of additional fluids in the gum tissues. Condition is often characterized by puffy, red, tender, and bleeding gums. See also “Sore Bleeding Gums
— T —
TARTAR A synonym for calculus.
TEMPROMANDIBULAR JOINT (TMJ) The joint that links the two jaws, the maxilla and the mandible.
THERASOL A pleasant tasting, non-staining, anti-infective medication that can be used as a rinse or, when mixed with water, as an irrigating solution.
TORUS A benign outgrowth of bone that usually develops on the roof of the mouth or under the tongue, on the lower jawbone.
TORI Plural for torus.
— U —

The little dangling structure in the back of your throat.
— V W  —
VASOCONSTRICTOR Something that causes the narrowing of blood vessels so that less blood is able to flow through at a time.
— X Y Z —
XEROSTOMIA See “dry mouth
(pronounced zy-li-tall)
A gum containing a natural sweetener made from the bark of birch trees. Recent studies show that xylitol gum helps to reduce the levels of Streptococcus Mutans, the bacteria responsible for dental caries. Xylitol is also used in treatment of biofilm wounds.

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