We have included a brief list of dental terms and information that may be of value
to you as a patient. For further information, visit our SERVICES
- Abfraction. This is a wearing of the tooth
along the gumline caused by repeated clenching and grinding (bruxism),
causing the enamel to "pop" off starting at the base of
the tooth and it can expose the gumline of the tooth to excessive
wear. Once the enamel is gone, then dentin is exposed and the teeth
are more susceptible to decay, sensitivity and more wearing down.
- Abrasion. A wearing down of the tooth structure,
commonly caused by using a hard toothbrush and improper brushing technique
along the gumline. Could also be from grinding or chewing hard objects
- Abscess. An infection of either the tooth,
gums or bone. Commonly appears either clinically as a "gum boil"
on the tissue, or it shows up on the x-ray, most often at the tip
of the root or between the roots.
- Abutement. These are the teeth on either side
of a bridge. They support the bridge. A bridge is placed when a tooth
- Age to bring in a child. Most children are
brought in to see a dentist between age 3 and age 4. Younger than
that, and they generally will not be able to sit for the visit. If
you can bring the child in with you (if you are a parent) you can
let them see you having your teeth cleaned and perhaps the dentist
can count their teeth and let them have a pleasant first visit (instead
of waiting until they have a toothache).
- Air abrasion. A relatively new technique to
the dental field in which a small high pressure spray of aluminum
oxide is used to remove decay or drill out pieces of old fillings
and even tooth structure. It cuts down the need for a drill in many
cases and often can eliminate the need for anesthetic since there
is less trauma to the tooth while it is being used. Advantages include:
less vibration, less noise, less heat build-up. It acts like a mini
sand blaster and works excellently in preparing teeth for sealants
or conservative dental care. Sometimes it is referred to as Micro-Dentistry˘
- Amalgams. Silver fillings have been used for
dental filling material for about 100 years. They are the metal type
of fillings (containing mercury - about 50%, tin, silver and other
metals such as tin or zinc mixed together) and generally hold up for
years and are an easily placed filling material. Now that newer, more
aesthetic and conservative composite (white) fillings are coming out
with stronger materials and quartz fillers for better wear, more people
are getting those placed instead. Amalgams tend to have a higher rate
of causing tooth stresses and fractures.
However, since amalgams are the least expensive type of filling, most
insurance companies only pay for amalgam fillings. ADA
position on Amalgam.
- Anesthesia. This is the method of "numbing"
an area of the mouth, or putting an area "to sleep" or in
the case of general anesthesia, putting the patient to sleep, for
a brief time while the procedure is being done, to block the transmission
of pain through the nerves.
- Anterior Teeth. These are the front eight teeth on the upper
or lower jaw. They include the incisors and the cuspids (canines).
- Attrition. This is the loss of tooth structure
over time, (or the loss of teeth over time.) Generally caused by wear,
long term usage, heavy usage of the teeth.
- Base. This is the material (typically a type
of cement) that is placed under a filling, when a filling is getting
close to the nerve to act as an insulator and sedative on the pulp
of the tooth (where the nerve is.)
- Bicuspids. These are the teeth just behind the pointed canines.
They are the fourth and fifth tooth on either side from the midline.
They typically have two cusps. They are used for chewing.
- Bleaching. Teeth can often be whitened by
the several new techniques of "bleaching" available today.
The most common methods used are the "in-office" method
where a strong bleaching agent is placed over the isolated teeth and
a special light is used to assist the bleaching material lighten the
teeth. This method is generally more controlled and probably better
for people who have tetracycline stains or streaks on their teeth.
The "at-home" technique involves making trays which fit
into the mouth and these are then filled with bleaching materials.
When worn for a few hours a day, noticeable results can be seen generally
within a few days to a couple weeks. Results vary from individual
to individual and it is probably best to check with your dentist to
help decide which method works best for you. Some of the factors involved
include the intensity of the stains, whether or not you have fillings
or crowns on your front teeth as well as what may have caused the
- Braces. Braces are put on teeth to help correct
rotated teeth, too large of spaces, crowding or misalignment of teeth.
Newer techniques today allow for wire frames to be worn that can spread
open the arch if it is too small, or pull one side of the jaw to correct
for overlap on one side only. In addition, clear brackets and brackets
that can be bonded inside the teeth are making braces a good
option for many adults today.
- Bridge. A permanently cemented appliance that replaces missing
teeth. The side teeth are called abutements and the missing replacement
tooth is called a pontic.
- Bruxism. This is the grinding and clenching of the teeth.
Often associated with flattening of the teeth surfaces.
- Calculus. When the plaque hardens on your teeth, it gets
calcified and is referred to as calculus. At this point, it cannot
be removed simply with brushing.
- Canines - The cuspids, the long pointy teeth that are the
third tooth from the midline on each arch. They help tear food and
typically have the longest roots of any of the teeth.
- Caries. This is the dental term for a cavity (decay) on a
- Composites. Composite or white plastic fillings,
are used when esthetics is a concern. The currently available materials
used for composites are showing some very strong wear potential and
while they may not be quite as hard as silver fillings on the chewing
surfaces, they do excellently in the grooves, and dramatically lower
the development of cavities. (Some insurance companies will pay for
the less expensive amalgams instead of composite fillings.) They are
glass filled resin fillings. The benefit if this type of filling
is that it is more conservative and aesthetic than the silver fillings.
- Crowns. Crowns are placed over a tooth when
a large portion of the tooth is lost ot decay or has broken off. Usually
when a filling is more than half of the size of the tooth, the tooth
is weakened. If the filling would comprise a significant portion of
the tooth, often the tooth can fracture under the stresses of chewing
and therefore, placing a crown over the tooth protects the chewing
surface and prevents that from happening. Crowns that are white are
made of porcelain and are usually placed in areas of esthetic concern.
Gold crowns might be placed in the molar region or when there is heavy
grinding that might damage the opposing teeth.
- Curettage. This is the scraping of the soft tissue areas
to remove the bacteria deep under the gums.
- Cuspids. These are the canines, or fangs. They are the third
tooth from the midline.
- Deciduous Teeth. These are the children's first set of teeth.
Also called the primary teeth. They are replaced later in life with
permanent teeth. See also teeth numbering.
- Dentures. Dentures are false teeth. They are
typically made from impressions (molds) that are taken of the inside
of the mouth and they are made of a type of plastic or porcelain that
duplicates the shape, size and function of the teeth. They
are a removable appliance to replace your teeth.
- Emergencies. How do you decide if something
is a true dental emergency? Generally, if you have swelling, an exposed
tooth, bleeding, or sharp throbbing pain, that is a dental emergency.
If you knock a tooth loose or out, attempt to gently rinse it off
lightly with water and reposition it as soon as possible. A tooth
that is knocked out and let dry in the air for over an hour has a
poor prognosis, whereas a tooth that is reimplanted within twenty
minutes, has a good prognosis. If you have spontaneous ongoing pain
or swelling or have experienced trauma, you should make arrangements
to see your dentist as soon as possible. CDA
- Edentulous. Missing the teeth in either arch.
- EMPRESS crowns and veneers. This is a type of veneer or laminate
or crown that uses a technique in which a strong porcelain material
is bonded to the tooth, rather than cemented, and it picks up a more
natural color of the underlying tooth. These are becoming the standard
of high esthetics for cosmetic dentistry. the material is similar
to natural tooth structure in terms of brilliance and light reflection
and it is similar to leucite in terms of strength, thereby giving
a durable surface that looks very natural.
- Endodontics. The specialty of dentistry that involves removing
the disease in and around the root or nerve of a tooth. Generally
referred to as a "root canal".
- Gingiva. The dental term for the gums, or supporting soft
tissue around the teeth.
- Gingivitis. The early stage of gum irritation - the first step towards periodontal disease. It is reversible with proper claening and adequate home care. Typically characterized by bleeding gums and red puffy tissue.
- Halitosis. This is the term for "bad breath". There
are several causes of halitosis, including the foods that we eat,
smoking, coffee, or it could be due to periodontal disease, infection
or "ketosis" which is a nutritional imbalance. Brushing
the tongue, swishing with rinses after eating, flossing, and brushing
after meals, avoiding coffee, smoking and garlic are some of the best
ways to prevent this.
- Implants. Dental implants, simply put, are
replacements for missing roots. Most implants are typically titanium
posts that are imbedded into the jawbone and then plastic or porcelain
teeth are placed over the portion of the implant that sticks out of
the gums. They usually take several months to complete since the bone
must fuse to the posts before any kind of pressure can be put on the
implant itself. For info: DENTAL IMPLANTS
- Impaction. This typically refers to the wisdom teeth. When
a tooth is impacted, it can either be partially impacted, soft tissue
impacted or full bony impacted, depending upon how far into the tissue
the tooth is.
- Incisors. These are the front two teeth on either side of
the midline. They are sharp teeth used primarily for biting, cutting
and help push the food into the mouth.
- Inlay. When a filling is large enough that a little more
chewing support may be needed, an inlay may be used. These are typically
lab-processed cases and are either porcelain or gold.
- Insurance. Dental insurance is designed to
be a benefit that typically an employer can offer to their employees
to assist them with their health care costs. Unfortunately, often
more than 35% of the fees go towards administering the plan, then
most plans have limitations, deductibles, waivers, fee schedules,
pre-authorizations, waiting periods, and maximums. In addition, it
often adds unnecessary expenses to the dental office for preparing
forms, submitting for pre-estimates, waiting for approvals and processing
claims. This does not allow for the dental care to be done with the
least amount of cost to the patient and the maximum benefit applied
to the provider's fees, rather than to administrative paperwork. The
American Dental Association has assisted in establishing a program
that allows a patient to select their own dentist, have 95% of the
fees be applied towards the dental work (as opposed to 30-45% being
wasted on unnecessary insurance administrative costs) and is very
cost effective for employers. It is referred to as Direct Reimbursement.
This program is a cost-saving alternative that is quickly becoming
the standard of care. If your employer is not using this, you should
contact the ADA and encourage your employer to compare what you currently
have to the Direct Reimbursement alternative. For info: ADA
INVISALIGN. A relatively new process of straightening teeth
using a series of thin hard plastic "aligners" in a series,
to corrrect rotations, crowding or space problems. To date, ALIGN
TECHNOLOGIES, located in Santa Clara County has created over one
million of these invisible aligners.
- Lasers. There are several different types of lasers currently
in use for dentistry. Among these include lasers that can be used
to assist with bleaching, gum therapy, decay removal, root canal therapy,
desensitizing a tooth, and helping heal an ulcer. In addition, the
latest laser in our arsenal is one that can be used to determine if
a stained pit has decay or not. It is 98% effective in it's diagnosis
(more accurate than an x-ray for smaller cases, and with much less
- Local Anesthetic - This is the most common form of anesthetic
given for most dental procedures. The anesthetic is localized in one
area and generally will last anywhere from 2-4 hours duration, although
there may be lingering sensation for several hours longer. Either
we give an infiltration or a block, depending upon the area we need
to numb up.
- Mandible. The lower arch (lower jaw).
- Maxilla. The upper arch (upper jaw).
- Molars. The larger back teeth, which are the 6th, 7th, and
8th tooth in the mouth from the front. They are used for most of the
- Nightguard. This is a removable appliance that is fabricated
to assist with grinding, bruxism, clenching and TMJ symptoms. It is
often worn at night to prevent wearing down the teeth surfaces.
- Nutrition and Dentistry. The more we learn
about nutrition, the more that we believe that a good diet will promote
a healthier lifestyle and healthier teeth. Especially if you are anticipating
dental work, you might wish to increase your Vitamin C, since it aids
with healing. During pregnancy, women should take extra care to eat
right and brush regularly since the hormone changes can affect the
susceptibility of the tissues to infection.
- Occlusal - the top of the teeth on the back teeth (the chewing
- Occlusal Guards - Bite splints or niteguards. If you have
TMJ, it's worth worth looking into getting an occlusal guard. These
can be used to help relief pressure, tension and anxiety.
- Onlay - When a tooth has a large filling that doesn't quite
need a crown for side wall support, but a filling might not be strong
enough by itself or be aesthetically compromised, then an onlay is
placed. Generally, these are either cast from gold, a strong pressed
ceramic type material or made from porcelain and are quite strong.
They are more esthetic and more durable than fillings. They are more
conservative than crowns and leave as much possible tooth strructure
as possible, while at the same time protecting the teeth.
- Oral Surgery. One of the specialties of dentistry. It includes
the removal of teeth, placing implants, and jaw surgery.
- Orthodontics. One of the specialties of dentistry. It involves
braces, for the straightening of teeth. Newer technologies may use
pre-bent wires or mouth guards to assist in straightening teeth rather
than applying braces to the teeth. Generally the procedures are done
to straighten the alignment of the teeth for better form, esthetics,
function and speech.
- Panoramic x-ray. These are taken using a special machine
that takes the x-ray of the jaws with the film outside of the mouth
and it shows a larger area at a time- all the teeth on one film. It
is generally good for looking for teeth, and for identifying cycts,
infections, impacted teeth, or fractures. The resolution is generally
not as good as the individual films to show cavities. To see a sample
of several panoramic x-rays.
- Pedodontics. A specialty of dentistry. Pediatric Dentistry
- the treatment of children's teeth. More about this in our Pediatric
- Periodontal Disease. The irritation and swelling (inflammation)
and bone loss that can occur if disease is let go around the supporting
tissues of the teeth. This is one of the more common and also preventable
diseases of mankind.Periodontitis is the step that follows, or is
more advanced, than gingivigits. As it advances, the teeth can get
loose and the tissue that surronds the teeth gets destroyed. See the
Hygiene Department for more info
- Periodontal Pocket. The area of the gum tissue that attaches
to the tooth at the top of the gums. Generally speaking, we have healthier
gums when the pockets are 2-3 mm deep, because it is easier to clean
with a brush. Pockets that are 4-6 mm or deeper, tend to trap food
and bacteria easier and can lead to gum disease.
- Permanent Teeth. The adult teeth, the second set of teeth
that we get, starting around age six and ending when we get our third
molars (wisdom teeth) around age 17-22. See also teeth
- Plaque. Generally this is the film that develops on teeth
which is sticky and can develop into a calcified mass called calculus
if not removed. It is food that is broken down and bacteria that combine
to produce it.
- Porcelain Veneers. The thin pieces of porcelain that are
used to change the shape, size or color or position of teeth, primarily
used in the front teeth. See the Aesthetics
Department for more info.
- Posterior Teeth. The back teeth in the mouth beyond the canines.
- Primary Teeth. This is the dental term for the first set
of teeth. Also called baby teeth. See also teeth
- Prophylaxis. Also called a prophy. This is the basic cleaning
of the teeth and gums done by the hygienist usually. It is to help
protect the patient from prgressing into periodontal disease and getting
- Root Canals. A root canal is typically done
whenever the decay or injury to the tooth invades the inner part of
the tooth where the pulp is. This is where the nerve and the blood
supply are located. When a root canal is done, the inner portion of
the pulp is removed, along with any infection that may have invaded
the inside walls of the tooth. Then a sealer material is placed with
a rubbery plastic to fill the hole so that new infection can't get
into the tooth. Generally, by removing the root, it can potentially
weaken a tooth and therefore, it is common to protect the integrity
of the tooth by placing a crown over the tooth.
- Sealants. Sealants used to be considered for
children's teeth only. Now we are finding that adults too, can benefit
from sealants. Sealants are plastic coatings that are placed on the
etched surface in the grooves of teeth-typically on the back molars
and sometimes on pre-molars. It helps prevent sugars and bacteria
from getting into those deep fissures and cause decay. CDA.
- Specialties of Dentistry. There are several
recognized specialties of dentistry. Simply stated, these are the
more common specialties: Endodontics is the treatment of root canals.
Pedodontics is the treatment of children. Periodontics is the treatment
of the gums. Orthodontics is the straightening of teeth. Oral Surgery
is extracting teeth and jaw surgery.
- Sjorgren's Syndrome. A condition resulting in dry mouth and
dry eyes caused by an immune system malfunction. It affects 2-4 million
people and 90% are women. For more details from a web site specifically
designed for this topic, click here.
- TMJ. The temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) is
a very unique and fragile joint. Because of the numbers of tendons,
ligaments and muscles that are used to hold it in position, it is
subject to trauma and stress. As a result, headaches, jaw soreness
and and neckaches can all be related to problems related to the TMJ.
Sometimes the small disc that separates the lower jawbone from the
socket where it rests gets displaced and a bite splint may be used
among other therapies to "reposition" the jaw into the proper
alignment. More on the TMJ.
- Toothbrushes. Brushing after each meal or
snack is a great way to prevent cavities. If your toothbrush is frayed
at the ends, you should consider replacing it. Let your toothbrush
air-dry in between uses so you don't get bacteria growing in it. Keep
it in the light, so the dark creepy bacteria can't do well. Bacteria
like a dark wet environment to thrive in. Tap the water off and make
sure you don't leave food or toothpaste on the brush. Never share
a toothbrush with someone else and change it even more frequently
if you have been sick. More on this in our Preventive
- Veneers. Thin coverings on the teeth, typically made of porcelain,
but can also apply to composite materials. Veneers generally refer
to the conservative version of a crown. The procedure is similar and
the technique is more critical, because we are working with thin layers
of porcelain and we also have to concern ourselves with the underlying
color of the teeth, since the veneers are basically translucent and
pick up the core shade of the teeth. Visit our Aesthetic
Department for more info.
- Wisdom Teeth. These are the last teeth to come into your
mouth. They are the 3rd molars and generally do not come out until
around age 17-25 years of age. Most people either don't have room
in their mouth for them, or they come in crooked, or are impacted
and never fully erupt. They get decayed easily and therefore are most
commonly removed on most patients.