Glossary of Dental Health Terms
leukoplakia: a white or gray patch that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. It is the mouth's reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth.
malocclusion: "bad bite" or misalignment of the teeth or jaws.
mandible: the lower jaw.
maxilla: the upper jaw.
mercury: a metal component of amalgam fillings.
molars: three back teeth in each dental quadrant used for grinding food.
mouth guard: a soft-fitted device that is inserted into the mouth and worn over the teeth to protect them against impact or injury.
muscle relaxant: a type of medication often prescribed to reduce stress.
nerve: tissue that conveys sensation, temperature, and position information to the brain.
nerve (root) canal: dental pulp; the internal chamber of a tooth where the nerves and blood vessels pass.
night guard: a removable acrylic appliance that fits over the upper and lower teeth used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by grinding or gnashing of the teeth during sleep.
nitrous oxide: a gas (also called laughing gas) used to reduce patient anxiety.
NSAID: a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often used as a dental analgesic.
occlusal X-rays: an X-ray showing full tooth development and placement. Each X-ray reveals the entire arch of teeth in either the upper or lower jaw.
occlusion: the relationship of the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed.
onlay: a type of restoration (filling) made of metal, porcelain, or acrylic that is more extensive than an inlay in that it covers one or more cusps. Onlays are sometimes called partial crowns.
oral cavity: the mouth.
oral and maxillofacial radiologist: the oral health care provider who specializes in the production and interpretation of all types of X-ray images and data that are used in the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders, and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region.
oral and maxillofacial surgery: surgical procedures on the mouth including extractions, removal of cysts or tumors, and repair of fractured jaws.
oral hygiene: process of maintaining cleanliness of the teeth and related structures.
oral medicine: the specialty of dentistry that provides for the care of the medically complex patient through the integration of medicine and oral health care.
oral pathologist: the oral health care provider who studies the causes of diseases that alter or affect the oral structures (teeth, lips, cheeks, jaws) as well as parts of the face and neck.
oral surgeon: the oral health care provider who performs many types of surgical procedures in and around the entire face, mouth, and jaw area.
orthodontics: dental specialty that using braces, retainers, and other dental devices to treat misalignment of teeth, restoring them to proper functioning.
orthodontist: the oral health provider who specializes in diagnosis, prevention, interception, and treatment of malocclusions, or "bad bites," of the teeth and surrounding structures. This is the specialist whose responsibility it is to straighten teeth by movement of the teeth through bone by the use of bands, wires, braces, and other fixed or removable corrective appliances or retainers.