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General Dentistry

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Dental Glossary

amalgam: a common filling material used to repair cavities. The material, also known as "silver fillings," contains mercury in combination with silver, tin, copper and sometimes zinc.

bleaching: chemical treatment of natural teeth that uses peroxide to produce the whitening effect.

bonding: a process by which dental materials are mechanically attached to teeth; this would include composite resin, porcelain and metal.

braces: devices (bands, wires, ceramic appliances) put in place by orthodontists to gradually reposition teeth to a more favorable alignment.

bridge: stationary dental prosthesis (appliance) fixed to teeth adjacent to a space; replaces one or more missing teeth, cemented or bonded to supporting teeth or implants adjacent to the space. Also called a fixed partial denture.

composite resin filling: tooth-colored restorative material composed of plastic with small glass or ceramic particles; usually "cured" or hardened with filtered light or chemical catalyst. An alternative to silver amalgam fillings.

crown: (1) the portion of a tooth above the gum line that is covered by enamel; (2) dental restoration covering all or most of the natural tooth; the artificial cap can be made of porcelain, composite or metal and is cemented on top of the damaged tooth.

decay: destruction of tooth structure caused by toxins produced by bacteria.

denture: a removable or fixed replacement of artificial teeth for missing natural teeth and surrounding tissues. Two types of removable dentures are available -- complete and partial. Complete dentures are used when all the teeth are missing, while partial dentures are used when some natural teeth remain.

DMD: Doctor of Medical Dentistry; equivalent to DDS, Doctor of Dental Surgery.

dry socket: a common complication that occurs when either a blood clot has failed to form in an extracted tooth socket or else the blood clot that did form has been dislodged.

enamel: the hard, mineralized material that covers the outside portion of the tooth that lies above the gum line (the crown).

gingivitis: inflamed, swollen, and reddish gum tissue that may bleed easily when touched or brushed. It is the first stage in a series of events that begins with plaque build up in the mouth and may end -- if not properly treated -- with periodontitis and tooth loss due to destruction of the tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth.

hygienist: a licensed, auxiliary dental professional who is both an oral health educator and clinician who uses preventive, therapeutic, and educational methods to control oral disease.

impacted tooth: a tooth that is partially or completely blocked from erupting through the surface of the gum. An impacted tooth may push other teeth together or damage the bony structures supporting the adjacent tooth. Often times, impacted teeth must be surgically removed.

implant: a metal rod (usually made of titanium) that is surgically placed into the upper or lower jawbone where a tooth is missing; it serves as the tooth root and anchor for the crown, bridge, or denture that is placed over it.

nerve (root) canal: dental pulp; the internal chamber of a tooth where the nerves and blood vessels pass.

night guard: a removable appliance that fits over the upper or lower teeth used to prevent wear and temporomandibular damage caused by grinding or gnashing of the teeth during sleep.

plaque: a colorless, sticky film composed of undigested food particles mixed with saliva and bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. Plaque left alone eventually turns in to tartar or calculus and is the main factor in causing dental caries and periodontal disease.

retainer: a removable appliance used to maintain teeth in a given position (usually worn at night).

stains: can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic stain is located on the outside of the tooth surface originating from external substances such as tobacco, coffee, tea, or food; usually removed by polishing the teeth with an abrasive prophylaxis paste. Intrinsic stain originates from the ingestion of certain materials or chemical substances during tooth development, or from the presence of caries. This stain is permanent and cannot be removed.

veneer: a thin, custom-made shell of tooth-colored plastic or porcelain that is bonded directly to the front side of natural teeth to improve their appearance -- for example, to replace lost tooth structure, close spaces, straighten teeth, or change color and/or shape.

wisdom teeth: third (last) molars that usually erupt between ages 18 and 25.

X-rays: high frequency light (or radiation) that penetrates different substances with different rates and absorption. In dentistry, there are typically four types of X-rays: periapical, bite-wing, occlusal, and panoramic.