Names of teeth
- buccal (B) = the side of a tooth facing the cheek
- lingual (L) = the side of a tooth facing the tongue
- mesial (M) = the side of a tooth facing towards the midline of the mouth
- distal (D) = the side of a tooth facing away from the midline of the mouth
- occlusal (O) = the chewing surface of back teeth
- incisal (I) = the biting edge of the front and canine (fang) teeth
For example, an MOD composite means a tooth-coloured filling that covers the mesial, occlusal and distal tooth surface.
- interproximal = the space between two teeth that are next to each other
Dental Words A-Z
Abrasion: Tooth surface that has been worn away by brushing too hard. Usually seen where the gum meets the tooth.
Abscess: A collection of pus, which forms because of an infection. The most common type is the periapical abscess – this is due to an infection in the pulp of the tooth, and can often be treated with root canal treatment (the alternative is removing the tooth). The second most common is a periodontal abscess, which is due to gum disease.
Abutment: A tooth, implant or crown that supports a bridge or denture. When talking about dental implants, an abutment is a small metal part that connects the crown part (the white tooth bit) to the implant (the rod that’s in the gums).
Acrylic: A plastic material used for making dentures, temporary crowns and temporary bridges.
Acute: Rapidly progressing and severe.
Aesthetics: The beauty or lifelikeness of dental restorations.
Alginate: A spongy plastic material used for taking impressions.
Alveolar bone: The part of the jaw which holds the teeth.
Alveolar osteitis: Fancy term for dry socket.
Alveolar ridge: The rim of bone that’s left behind after teeth have been removed.
Alveoloplasty: Smoothing and reshaping the jaw where a tooth or teeth have been removed, for making it ready for a tooth replacement such as a denture, bridge or implant.
Amalgam: Silver filling material. Also sometimes called alloy.
Anaesthesia: Can mean either loss of awareness (general anaesthesia) or, more commonly, loss of sensation – especially pain. Topical anaesthesia is where a numbing agent (gel or cream) is put onto the skin or inside your mouth. Local anaesthesia means numbing injections.
Analgesic: A pain relieving substance.
Anterior teeth: Front teeth.
Apex: The end or tip of a tooth root.
Apicoectomy: Surgery to remove the end of a root.
Arch: The curve of the row of teeth in each jaw.
Arch wires: Wires which attach to the brackets of braces (see orthodontics). They guide the movement of the teeth.
Attrition: Tooth surface that has been worn away by grinding or chewing.
Avulsion: A tooth that has been knocked out of the mouth.
Bicuspids: Same as premolars (the teeth between the canines – sometimes incorrectly spelled K9’s – and molars)
Bite: The way upper and lower teeth meet.
Bite wings: Small x-rays that allow looking at the surfaces where the teeth meet each other (used to look for checking for cavities)
Bleaching: Whitening teeth by using a bleaching agent.
Bonding: Tooth-coloured resin material which is applied and hardened with a special blue light. Used for fillings, to repair chipped teeth, for closing spaces between teeth, and for changing the shape of teeth. It can also be used for protecting a portion of the tooth’s root that has been exposed when gums recede. When this is on the outside surface, this is known as “buccal bonding” (not buckle bonding!).
Bone loss: A loss of bone supporting the teeth, usually caused by gum disease.
Braces: A method for straightening teeth.
Bridge: A fixed replacement for missing teeth. It’s held in place by supporting teeth on either side. For a fixed bridge, the supporting teeth are crowned. If they’re not crowned already, this may mean sacrificing good tooth structure. For this reason, implants have become increasingly popular. A Maryland bridge is bonded to the supporting teeth and doesn’t involve sacrificing tooth structure, but it’s only suitable in some locations and for some patients.
Bruxism: Teeth grinding and clenching.
Buccal: The side of a tooth facing the cheek.
Calculus: If plaque is not removed, it can harden over a few days and turn into calculus (also known as tartar). Calculus is a bit like scale in a kettle and over time can cause gum disease.
Canines: Sometimes wrongly spelled K9’s, these are the fang teeth (eye teeth).
Cap: Slang for crown.
Cast: A reproduction of a tooth or part of the jaw, also known as a plaster model. It’s made from an impression taken by the dentist.
Composite: Tooth-coloured filling material.
Caries: A fancy word for tooth decay.
Cavity: A hole in the tooth, usually caused by tooth decay.
CBCT: A 3-dimensional x-ray of the teeth and jaws. Also known as dental cone beam CT scan. The machine moves around your head in a circular motion, like an OPG. The radiation dose is much less than that of a conventional CT scan. It gives detailed 3-D information which cannot be gotten from normal x-rays, and can be especially useful in implant dentistry and oral surgery.
Cementum: The hard outer covering of the roots of teeth.
CEREC: A way of providing crowns, inlays or onlays in one visit, without the need to take physical impressions or a lab. Instead, a digital scan is taken, and the restoration is made on site.
Chronic: Slowly developing and long-lasting.
Clenching: Forcefully clamping together the upper and lower teeth. Often occurs during sleep. A night guard can help protect the teeth.
Composite: A tooth coloured plastic (resin) material used for fillings.
Cone beam CT scan: See CBCT.
Crowding: Crooked and overlapping teeth.
Crown: The crown of a tooth is the visible white outer bit. A crown or cap replaces part or all of the natural crown of the tooth, and covers the whole tooth. It can be white (usually zirconia or emax), PFM (short for porcelain-fused-to-metal – metal on the inside and porcelain on the outside), or gold.
Cusps: The raised pointy parts of the tooth.
Cyst: A soft swelling that’s filled with fluid.
Debridement: The removal of heavy tartar build-up above and below the gum line, using additional antimicrobial rinses.
Decay: Same as tooth decay, caries or cavity.
Dentine: The sensitive part of the tooth below the enamel and above the pulp. When tooth decay goes beyond the enamel, into the dentine, it may feel sensitive or painful.
Dentition: The teeth in the mouth.
Denture: False teeth. Can be either a full set for all upper or lower teeth, or partial, for some missing teeth.
Desensitising agents: Substances used to treat sensitive teeth.
Digital X-ray: An instant x-ray used nowadays that needs no film and processing. It emits very little radiation.
Dry socket: A painful condition that occasionally happens after tooth removal. The reason is that the blood clot does not form or is dislodged, leaving the bone and nerves exposed. Can readily be treated with Alveogyl.
Edentulous: Missing all natural teeth.
Enamel: The hard outer covering of the crown of the tooth.
Endodontist: A specialist dentist for root canal treatment.
Erosion: Tooth structure being worn away by acid.
Extra-Oral: Outside the mouth.
Extraction: Tooth removal.
Eye tooth: Same as canine tooth and fang tooth – the long pointed tooth between the front teeth and premolars.
Filling: Amalgams or composite resins used to fill a cavity.
Fissure Sealants: A tooth coloured material that’s placed into the grooves of newly erupted back teeth to prevent decay.
Fluoride: A substance that hardens teeth and protects them against decay.
Fluorosis: Teeth that look mottled as a result of too much fluoride.
Frenectomy: Removing a frenum, either fully or partially.
Frenum: The soft tissue that runs in a thin line between the lips and gums.
General anaesthesia: Drug-induced loss of consciousness.
Gingival: Relating to the gums.
Gingival margin: The gum line.
Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums. This is the earliest stage of gum disease, and usually easily reversible.
Grinding: Rubbing the teeth together, often without realising it, or in your sleep. Grinding can cause TMJ pain and wear teeth down. Ask your dentist about a nightguard.
Gums: The pink soft tissues around and between the teeth.
Gum line: Where the gum meets the tooth.
Halitosis: Bad breath.
Hygienist: Someone who is qualified to do dental cleanings and deep cleaning, and who can show you how to best look after your teeth and gums.
Impacted: A tooth that’s blocked from growing into its proper position by other teeth or bone. Common in wisdom teeth.
Implant: A fine rod of titanium or, less commonly, ceramic that has been put into the jawbone. It replaces the natural root of a tooth. Implants can be used to support crowns or dentures.
Impression: An impression of one’s teeth using a spongy impression material that creates a negative of your teeth. Used for making crowns onlays, inlays, bridges and dentures. Instead of making physical impressions, it may be possible to use digital impressions (iTero, Cerec).
Incisors: The front teeth up to the canine.
Inlay: A ceramic filling made outside the mouth, which is cemented into the hole. Good for big cavities.
Interdental: In between teeth.
Interproximal: In between teeth, often used when talking about decay.
Intra-oral: Inside the mouth, e. g. an intra-oral camera.
Intravenous sedation: A drug, usually Midazolam, is given in a vein to produce a deep state of relaxation and sedation. Works even if you’re extremely anxious. Sometimes referred to as twilight sleep.
Labial: The side of a tooth facing the lips and cheeks. Also see buccal.
Laughing gas: Nitrous oxide. For inhalation sedation, a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide is used.
Lingual: The side of a tooth facing the tongue.
Local anaesthetic: Numbing shot.
Malocclusion: An abnormal alignment of the teeth or jaws.
Mandible: The lower jaw.
Mandibular: Relating to the lower jaw.
Maryland bridge: A bridge that’s bonded onto natural supporting teeth. Not so useful for back teeth because it doesn’t withstand biting forces well.
Masticatory: Related to chewing.
Maxilla: The upper jaw.
Maxillary: Relating to the upper jaw.
Max-Fac: See Maxillo-Facial Surgeon.
Maxillo-Facial Surgeon: A dental specialist for problems of the jaws, teeth and facial structures.
Molars: The large back teeth behind the premolars.
Mouthguard: A plastic shield for protecting the teeth and jaws when playing contact sports.
Mucosa: The soft tissue lining of the mouth.
Mucous Membrane: see mucosa.
Nerve: The tooth’s nerve (located in the pulp). Can also refer to the cranial nerves which supply sensation to the teeth and mouth.
Nitrous oxide: see inhalation sedation.
Occlusal: The chewing surface of a back tooth.
Occlusion: The bite (how upper and lower teeth come together).
Onlay: A ceramic filling made outside the mouth and cemented onto the tooth. Unlike an inlay, it covers one or more cusps of the tooth.
OPG: Large full head x-ray that shows your bone levels and the pathology of your mouth. Not very useful for checking for cavities, but good for seeing if gum disease has affected bone levels.
Oral sedation: An anti-anxiety drug in pill or liquid form.
Oral surgeon: A dental specialist for removing teeth, removing tumours, and treating jaw injuries.
Orthodontist: A dentist who specialises in braces and other appliances to slowly move teeth into a different position.
Overdenture: A removable denture that rests on implants or remaining natural teeth.
PA: Small x-rays that focus on one or two teeth in particular.
Palate: The roof of the mouth.
Panoramic X-ray: Same as OPG.
Periapical: The area around the end of a root. Also see abscess.
Pericoronitis: An inflammation of the gum tissue, usually around a third molar (wisdom tooth).
Periodontal disease: Gum disease.
Periodontal ligament: The connective tissue fibres that attach a tooth to the part of the jaw that holds the teeth. This allows teeth to move ever so slightly, so they don’t break when eating.
Periodontal pocket: A space between the tooth and gums where bacteria can thrive. It’s caused by the gum tissue separating from the tooth, usually because of gum disease.
Periodontist: A specialist dentist for periodontal (gum) disease.
Periodontitis: The stage of gum disease after gingivitis. Usually treated with deep cleaning and good home care.
Plaque: A sticky biofilm made up mostly of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth and along the gumline. Can cause gum disease and tooth decay if left undisturbed for too long.
Pocket: See periodontal pocket.
Pontic: The artificial tooth of a dental bridge between the supporting crowned teeth at each end.
Post and Core: see Post-Crown.
Post-Crown: A combination of a post that extends down into the root canal of the tooth, and a crown. This only works if the tooth has had root canal treatment. Done if not enough tooth structure is left for just putting on a crown.
Posterior: Back or behind.
PPE: Short for Personal Protective Equipment, especially in relation to Covid. Many dental practices charge extra for this.
Premedication: An anti-anxiety drug taken before an appointment.
Premolars: The teeth in between the canines (fang teeth) and the molars.
Prophylaxis: A dental cleaning for keeping your mouth healthy. Usually should be done every 6 months.
Prosthodontist: A dentist with extensive additional training in replacing and restoring teeth.
Pulp: The soft area in the centre of the tooth, underneath the dentine layer. It contains the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
Pulp cap: When a cavity is near the pulp, the dentist can place some sedative dressing materials to protect the pulp. Done to try and prevent the need for root canal treatment.
Pulpectomy: Removal of the pulp.
Pulpitis: Pulp inflammation.
Radiograph: An x-ray.
Restoration: A repair to a tooth to restore it, for example a filling or a crown.
Restorative Dentistry: The repair and replacement of teeth, for example with fillings, crowns, bridges or implants.
RCT: See root canal treatment.
Root: The part of the tooth underneath the gums that goes into the bone and holds the tooth in place. When some of the root is exposed, this may result in sensitive teeth.
Root canal: A canal that runs inside the root of the tooth, and contains nerves and blood vessels. Front teeth, canines, lower premolars and some upper second premolars have only one canal, whereas molars have three or more canals.
Root canal treatment: A treatment for the canal(s) inside the tooth. Sometimes abbreviated to “root canal” or RCT.
Root planing: Removing tartar from under the gum line. Also known as deep cleaning.
Scaling: Removing tartar, either by scraping it off with hand instruments, or using an ultrasonic scaler. See dental cleaning.
Sedation: Using one or more drugs to reduce anxiety and the level of consciousness.
Soft tissues: The gums, lips and cheeks.
Splinting: Joining loose or injured teeth together using a thin wire in order to make them more stable.
Stomatitis: An inflammation of the soft tissues of the mouth.
Subgingival: Below the gum line.
Supraeruption: When a tooth grows further out of the gum because the opposing tooth in the opposite side of the jaw is missing. More likely to happen when the lower tooth is missing.
Tartar: If plaque is not removed, it can harden over a few days and turn into a hard deposit called tartar.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD): Problems that affect the jaw joint. More common in stressful times. See our page on TMJ pain.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ): The joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull.
Third molar: Wisdom tooth.
Topical anaesthetic: Also known as numbing gel, this is a paste or gel which is put on the gum to numb it before an injection.
Veneer: Waver-thin pieces of porcelain which can be glued over the front of teeth. They require the removal of healthy tooth structure to avoid bulkiness. In many cases, orthodontics or resin bonding (or a combination) can be used to achieve a similar effect. See the Cosmetic Dentistry page.
Vital: A tooth that’s vital is alive. Non-vital means the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp have died.
Wizzie: What we call a wisdom tooth at Dental Fear Central. Did you know? Some people have more than 4 wizzies, while others have none.
Xerostomia: Dry mouth.