Dentist Terminology

Amalgam
The most commonly used material for fillings in the back teeth, also called “silver fillings.” Amalgam fillings are usually less costly than “composite” or resin fillings.
Anterior Teeth
The front teeth. Refers to the six upper and six lower teeth located towards the front of the mouth; includes incisors and cuspids. The anterior teeth and bicuspids are the teeth showing when you smile.
Bicuspids (Premolars)
These teeth are the fourth and fifth teeth when we count from the center of the mouth. These are also called first and second bicuspids on each side and are found between the cuspid (canine tooth) and the first molar. A bicuspid has two cusps (points or peaks) for chewing.
Bitewing Radiograph (X-Ray)
X-ray film is embedded in special paper that has been folded to resemble a paper airplane. The dentist asks the patient to bite down on the paper “wing” to hold the x-ray film in place in order to help obtain the best image. The bitewing x-ray shows upper and lower teeth in the back of the mouth (above the gum line) to reveal any cavities between the teeth and underneath fillings.
Caries/Cavities
Commonly used terms for tooth decay.
Cast Restoration/Crown
Cast restorations are created to replace a large portion of a tooth damaged from decay or being broken (fractured). Crowns, inlays and onlays are usually made of gold and other metals for strong chewing and long-lasting use. These restorations are custom-fit to the individual tooth, processed in a dental laboratory and permanently cemented in place.
Composite
Composite fillings are also known as “resin” fillings and are used to fill cavities in a tooth toward the front of the mouth where the filling might be seen. Composite or resin is a tooth-colored material used to fill a tooth cavity so the filling will not be easily noticed when smiling.
Cusp
The high point(s) or peaks of tooth enamel on the chewing or biting surface of a cuspid, bicuspid or molar tooth.
Cuspid
Counting from the center of the front teeth to the back of the mouth, the cuspid is the third tooth from the center of your mouth. Cuspids have one rounded or pointed edge used for biting and tearing. Cuspids are commonly known as canine teeth or eye teeth.
Dental Implant
A prosthetic tooth or implant is designed to be anchored to structures placed surgically beneath the gum layer or into or on the jawbone (lower jaw, known as the “mandible,” or upper jaw, known as the “maxilla”) to replace a tooth. From Darby and Walsh, 1995.
Extraction
Removing or “pulling” a tooth can be a simple extraction or a complex process using surgical skills.
Fluoride
A naturally occurring element that helps to prevent cavities or tooth decay. It is found in fluoridated water systems and many types of toothpaste. It may also be applied directly to the teeth by a dentist or dental hygienist.
Gingiva
The gums. The soft tissue that surrounds the necks of the teeth.
Impacted Tooth
A tooth that is prevented from reaching its normal position in the mouth by tissue, bone, or another tooth.
Incisal Edge
The biting surface of a central or lateral incisor.
Incisal Angle
The corner of the incisal edge of an anterior (front) tooth.
Incisors
These are the front teeth with flat edges used for biting. The central and lateral incisors are the first and second teeth counting from the center of the mouth to the back of the mouth.
Inlay
A filling composed of metal, gold, acrylic or porcelain that is made outside of the mouth and then cemented into place where the cavity has been prepared. This type of restoration does not involve the high points of the tooth (cusps).
Occlusal Surface
The chewing or grinding surfaces of the bicuspid and molar teeth (back teeth).
Onlay
To protect a tooth and its peaks (cusps), a custom-made cast of gold, semi-precious metal or porcelain is built to cover the cusps (peaks of the tooth) for the protection of the tooth. It can also be used to replace one or more of the cusps of a tooth.
Palliative Treatment
Treatment designed to reduce pain or stop the spread of infection.
Panographic Radiograph (X-Ray)
An x-ray film exposed with both the x-ray source and film outside of the mouth that presents all of the teeth and jaws on one plane on a single film. Also known as a Panorex.
Periapical Radiograph (X-Ray)
An x-ray film that shows the whole root of a tooth, including the bone surrounding the apex (tip) of the root. Also known as a single film or PA.
Periodic Oral Examination/Evaluation
An evaluation performed on a patient of record to determine any changes in the patient’s dental and medical health status since a previous comprehensive or periodic evaluation was performed.
Periodontal Prophylaxis (Cleaning)
A part of periodontal maintenance following active periodontal therapy. A periodontal prophylaxis includes removing microscopic organisms and calculus above and below the gums, scaling and root planing where necessary, and/or polishing the teeth.
Periradicular (pronounced “perry-rad-ICK-you-lure”)
The area that surrounds the root of the tooth.
Permanent Tooth
An adult tooth. Also known as permanent dentition. Adult teeth naturally replace primary (baby) teeth.
Posterior Teeth
The bicuspids and molars. These are the teeth in the back of the mouth used for chewing and grinding.
Prefabricated Crown
A pre-made metal or resin crown shaped like a tooth that is used to temporarily cover a seriously decayed or broken down tooth. Used most often on children’s deciduous teeth (baby teeth).
Primary Teeth
A child’s first set of twenty “baby teeth” that are eventually replaced by permanent teeth. Also known as deciduous teeth.
Prophylaxis (Cleaning)
Teeth cleaning. The scaling and polishing of the crowns of the teeth to remove calculus (tartar), plaque (a sticky bacterial substance that clings to the surface of the teeth and causes decay and gum disease), and stains. Also known as a “prophy.”
Proximal Surface
Refers to the surfaces of a tooth that touch a neighboring tooth. The space between adjacent teeth is the interproximal space.
Quadrant
Dental professionals describe our teeth and treatments in each of the four regions of the mouth (quadrants) and for each tooth using a numbering system all dentists follow. The four quadrants of the mouth are: upper right; upper left; lower right; and the lower left.
Radiograph/Radiographic Image
The term “x-ray” is often used interchangeably with radiograph/radiographic image. A picture produced on a sensitive surface (film) by a form of radiation other than light. In dentistry, x-rays are the radiation source. New tools allow digital displays of the image from the x-ray.
Resin
See Composite.
Root Canal Therapy (Root Canal)
Root canal is a treatment of disease and injuries of the tooth pulp and related tooth root or periradicular conditions. This is usually done by an endodontist.
Root Planing
This “deep cleaning” removes built-up plaque and bacteria deposits on the root surface, and in the root pockets. This is usually done by a periodontist.
Sealant
To prevent decay of teeth, a composite material (usually a plastic coating), is bonded to the biting surface of teeth to seal decay-prone pits, fissures, and grooves of teeth.
Temporary Crown
A restorative procedure that involves a resin or stainless steel tooth covering (cap) that is placed over a tooth.
X-Ray
See Radiograph.

Consumer Toolkit©

Obtain benefit and eligibility information, check claims status, and more.

Consumer Toolkit

Resources