Dental terms demystified

Here’s an ever-expanding list of technical terms we may ‘accidentally’ slip into conversation.

Alginate – a gloopy substance we sometimes use to take impressions (moulds) of your teeth.

Amalgam – a mixture of metals, including mercury, that can be used to fill teeth.

Apicoectomy – also known as a root-end resection, this involves removing the tip of an infected root.

Biopsy – the removal of some tissue for further analysis.

Bonding – a cosmetic technique used to build up and reshape teeth.

Bruxism – teeth grinding or jaw clenching (often related to stress).

Calculus – another term for calcified plaque, a hardened layer of bacteria that builds up on your teeth. Also referred to as tartar.

Canines (cuspids) – the pointed teeth towards the front of your mouth, either side of your incisors.

Cavity – a hole in your tooth that’s caused by tooth decay, also known as caries.

Composite – a tooth-coloured resin-based material that’s used for fillings and teeth bonding (among other things).

Cusp – the pointy part of your tooth.

DDS – doctor of dental surgery.

Dental floss – a thin strand of (usually) nylon or Teflon that can be used to clean between your teeth – once a day!

Dental specialist – a dentist who has undergone further training in a recognised specialist area, for example orthodontics or periodontics.

Dentine – a layer of living tissue that sits underneath your tooth’s enamel and makes up the root of the tooth.

Denture – a removable plate with artificial teeth.

Enamel – the hard, protective surface of your teeth (look after it!).

Endodontist – a dental specialist who focuses on treating the inner pulp of your teeth.

Erosion – the irreversible loss of your tooth’s surface from acids.

Extraction – the removal of a tooth.

Filling – the repair of a broken or decayed tooth with composite or amalgam.

Gingiva – gums!

Gingivitis – inflammation of your gums.

Incisors – your front teeth, which are designed to bite your food into chewable pieces.

Incognito braces – a gold lingual brace that’s custom-made to perfectly fit behind your teeth.

Interproximal – between your teeth.

Interproximal reduction (IPR) – the removal of small amounts of enamel from in between your teeth.

Intraoral – inside your mouth.

Invisalign – everyone’s favourite clear, removable brace.

Lingual brace – a brace that attaches behind your teeth (lingual meaning tongue side).

Malocclusion – the misalignment of your upper and lower teeth and the way they bite together.

Mandible – your lower jaw.

Maxilla – your upper jaw.

Molars – the eight large flat teeth (four top and four bottom) at the back of your mouth – great for grinding!

Orthodontist – a dental specialist who straightens teeth and jaws using braces.

Periodontist – a specialist in the prevention and treatment of gum disease.

Periodontitis – gum disease, which if left untreated can damage your soft tissues and the bone that supports your teeth.

Plaque – a colourless bacteria-filled film that accumulates on your teeth, which can cause tooth decay.

Premolars (bicuspids) – the eight teeth (four top and four bottom) with two pointed cusps that sit in front of your molars.

Retainers – a removable or fixed appliance that’s designed to hold your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment.

Teeth whitening – a treatment that whitens your teeth, removing stains and discolouration.

X-ray (panoramic/OPG) – an X-ray of all your teeth, mouth and jaws.

X-ray (bite-wing) – an X-ray of your back teeth (to help us spot decay, especially when it’s hidden between your teeth).

X-ray (periapical) – an X-ray of one or two teeth showing the entire length including the root and surrounding tissues.

X-ray (occlusal) – this X-ray shows us the roof or the ‘floor’ of your mouth. They’re useful for identifying extra teeth, fractures and abscesses among other things.