Dental Term Definitions

Learn about the definitions for dental terms.

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Definitions of Dental Terms

What is dental decay, anyway?

Rotting teeth, dental decay, cavities – they all mean “dental caries". It is caused by bacteria fermenting on sugar and producing acid that erodes tooth structure. If food is left on teeth for a prolonged time, bacteria will “eat” on it and produce byproducts(i.e. acid) that cause your tooth to “rot”. The 3 steps in preventing caries: 1.) minimize sugar intake, 2.) good oral hygiene practice(brush and floss), and 3.) regular 6-month check-ups with your dentist.

Proximal caries

Proximal caries (also known as tooth decay).

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is the technical term for teeth grinding. Individuals that grind their teeth are called bruxers, and often bite down at inappropriate times, most frequently, while they sleep. Stress and an individual's personality type can possibly contribute to bruxism, but most bruxism has a genetic root and is unlikely to stop as we age. Many people don't realize they have this habit, thus bruxism isn't diagnosed until it is too late. However, bruxism can be easily treated by a dentist. The dentist can make a plastic mouth appliance such as a night guard to absorb the force of biting during sleep.

What causes gum recession?

Gum recession happens for many reasons. The old belief was that improper tooth brushing techniques caused gums to shrink and exposing root surfaces. Latest studies have shown that an imbalanced occlusion and excessive clenching, grinding and lateral sliding of teeth during sleep(i.e. bruxism) overload the gum tissue and cause them to recede. The dental term is abfraction. It is similar to the analogy of a tree that is not retaining soil on the roots because of heavy wind force that pushes the tree side ways and back.

What is a root canal?

Root canals are small thin divisions that branch off from the top pulp chamber within your tooth to the tip of the root. When the pulp (which carries the tooth's nerves, veins, arteries and lymph vessels) becomes infected due to a bacteria seeping in, it can die. Pain in the tooth is commonly felt when the damaged or dead pulp causes increased blood flow and cellular activity, and the pressure cannot be relieved from the tooth. This is why people feel pain when biting down, chewing, and applying hot or cold foods and beverages.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are third molars that do not always erupt properly when they appear. When wisdom teeth don't have room to grow, or they haven't reached their final position by age 25, they are considered impacted because they've stopped growing and they have no room to move.

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What is plaque?

Plaque is a sticky layer of material containing germs that accumulate on teeth, including places where your toothbrush doesn't reach. This can cause gum disease and dental decay, and the best way to get rid of plaque is to brush and floss your teeth daily.

What are veneers?

A veneer is a thin layer of restorative material placed over the surface of a tooth, either to improve the aesthetics of a tooth, or to protect a damaged tooth surface.

Porcelain veneers.

Porcelain veneers.

What are dental implants?

Dental implants are natural looking replacements made of titanium or ceramic that are permanently placed in the jaw to act as artificial roots. Implants can improve the retention of existing dentures and preserve the jawbones for better aesthetics. The time required for the 3-step process (placement surgery, uncovering implants and tooth placement) may vary depending on the type of implant.

What is a dental sealant?

A dental sealant is a thin plastic film painted onto the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars which are highly effective in the prevention of cavities. They have been scientifically proven to be 100 percent effective in protecting the tooth surfaces from caries. Sealants last between 5-10 years.

What is a fixed bridge?

A fixed bridge is a dental appliance that replaces one or more natural missing teeth. Unlike dentures, they cannot be taken out of the mouth by the patient.