Ever left the dentist's office feeling more confused about your teeth than when you arrived? This glossary can help guide you through your next dental appointment and give you a better understanding of oral self-care, conditions, and procedures.
Abrasion: Tooth wear caused by improper brushing or excessively forceful use of toothpicks or floss. Holding objects between the teeth or frequently placing and removing a dental appliance may also cause abrasion.
Abutment: A tooth or implant that supports an artificial device (fixed prosthesis). Anchored to the abutment, the prosthesis replaces a tooth or teeth.
Amalgam filling: A mixture of mercury, silver, tin, and copper used to fill cavities. This combination is very durable, easy to use, and highly resistant to wear, but is not as natural looking as other types of restorations.
Bleaching: Whitening teeth with one of a variety of products or procedures, either at home or in the dentist's office.
Bonding: A resin applied to change the shape or color of a tooth or fill a cavity.
Bridge: A device that replaces missing teeth by crowning the adjacent ones. It is cemented to surrounding teeth for support.
Bruxism: Clenching (tightly holding top and bottom teeth together) or grinding (sliding teeth back and forth) while sleeping or awake. Sometimes caused by stress or even sleep disorders, bruxism puts pressure on the tissues around your jaw and can wear down your teeth.
Calculus: A hard deposit of mineralized material sticking to crowns or roots of teeth. This deposit gradually develops when a sticky film of bacteria on teeth mixes with the minerals in saliva and is allowed to harden over time.
Caries: Tooth decay or cavities, which develop when food left on teeth destroys enamel. Bacteria thrive on these foods, releasing an acid that eats away at the teeth over time.
Crown: A restoration that covers or "caps" a tooth.
Dentures: Artificial teeth that are placed in your mouth after the remaining teeth are removed.
Dry socket: A condition that sometimes occurs when a blood clot comes out of a socket after a tooth is removed before the socket has had time to heal. A dry socket can be very painful for several days.
Enamel: The hard, calcified, outside layer of a tooth.
Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums that surround teeth.
Halitosis: Bad breath caused by certain foods or beverages, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, tobacco, or an underlying health condition.
Impacted tooth: A tooth -- often a wisdom tooth -- that is partly or completely blocked from surfacing. A tooth may be blocked by another tooth, bone, or soft tissue.
Implant: A device that is surgically placed in bone to support a prosthesis. Because it's fused to the bone, an implant provides a stable support for individual replacement teeth, bridges, or dentures.