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.
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.
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.
Malocclusion: Misalignment of teeth and jaws.
Palate: The hard and soft tissues that make up the roof of the mouth.
Plaque: A soft, sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on teeth. Unless teeth are regularly cleaned with brushing and flossing, plaque releases acids that attack tooth enamel and can eventually result in cavities.
Pulp: The tissue inside the center of the tooth, which contains blood vessels and nerves.
Retainer: A custom device made of plastic and/or metal, and used to stabilize the position of teeth, often after braces are removed.
Root canal therapy: Treatment of infected or traumatized pulp, which runs down through the root. A root canal involves removal of the diseased or injured pulp to prevent infection and tooth loss. Then the dentist cleans and seals off the chamber within the root of the tooth, and places a crown over the tooth to strengthen it.
Scaling: A procedure used to remove plaque, calculus, or stains from the teeth.
Sealant: A thin bonded coating applied to the chewing surfaces of back or molar teeth to protect them from decay.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder): A condition that may cause jaw, facial, head, or neck pain. It can also cause a clicking or popping sound when opening the mouth. TMD may result from stress and teeth grinding, injury, arthritis, or other diseases.
Veneer: A thin tooth covering placed on the front sides of teeth to improve gaps or cover stained, badly shaped, or crooked teeth. A veneer may be made of porcelain, ceramic, composite, or acrylic resin.