What’s your dentist talking about?
Ever feel totally bamboozled when you go to the dentist? You hear what everyone is saying. You may have even heard some of the terms before. But do you really understand what they mean? Or what the implications are if you have interdental plaque build up that’s affecting your maxilla?
We get it. Dentistry is a medical profession. And while we may use hundreds of its anatomical and technical terms every day, chances are you’ll only hear them once or twice a year when you’re in for a checkup.
Still, it’s worth knowing what we’re talking about, as it can help ease any concerns or anxiety you might have.
So we’ve created this patient-friendly dental glossary, where we run through the terms you’re most likely to hear. And hopefully the next time you’re in the dentist’s chair you’ll be able to nod (with your eyes) knowingly when we use them, confident that you know what we’re babbling on about.
From ‘abscess’ to ‘Zygomatic bone’, here’s our patient-friendly glossary of dental terms
Abscess—A pocket of pus in the teeth or gums caused by a bacterial infection. If you have one, see your dentist ASAP for treatment. Left untreated, an abscess can lead to a worsening or spreading of the infection in the jawbone, teeth and surrounding tissue.
Anaesthetic—Drugs that ease pain without knocking you out. They’re usually given via an injection into the gum or mouth in and around the treatment site. They’re often used during simple procedures such as fillings.
Avulsion—Whether it’s a footy accident or you’ve been headbutted by a horse, we use the term to refer to teeth that have been knocked out because of trauma. This is a dental emergency that needs immediate treatment.
Bruxism—The unconscious habit of clenching, grinding or gnashing your teeth, most commonly during sleep. Early signs of bruxism can include a tight jaw, pain that feels like an earache, and chipped or loose teeth. Your dentist can help you diagnose and manage bruxism.
Bleaching—The process of lightening the teeth. Professional teeth whitening performed under the guidance of your dentist is a safe and effective way to improve the appearance of discoloured teeth.
Cavity—Caused by tooth decay, cavities are permanently damaged areas of a tooth that become openings or holes. Unless they’re filled, they’ll gradually become bigger.
Caries—Another way of saying ‘tooth decay’, or the bacterial process that damages a tooth. Dental caries eventually penetrate the tooth’s layer of enamel and become a cavity.
Crown—A covering, or cap placed over a damaged tooth. They can be made from metal, ceramic, porcelain, stainless steel or resin.
Dental implant—Titanium screws that do the job of a natural tooth’s root. Dental implants are inserted into your jawbone, beneath your gums, to take the place of missing teeth. They provide a solid foundation to support a crown.
Dentin—The layer of hard, calcareous tissue beneath the enamel of a tooth. Ever suffer tooth sensitivity? Exposed dentin is often the culprit. It also gives teeth their colour. If you look carefully, you can see its yellow hue through the tooth’s enamel. Dentin is harder and denser than bone, but not as hard as the enamel surrounding it.
Digital dentistry—The latest technology in oral care, digital dentistry allows us to perform your procedure faster, safer, and more precisely. Using the 3Shape Trios Intraoral Scanner, we can take accurate scans of your mouth in 10 minutes or less.
Enamel—The hardest substance in the human body, enamel is the shiny white outer covering of the tooth. It’s the first and most important line of defence against tooth decay.
Extraction—The process of removing a tooth. Tooth extractions happen for a number of reasons, the most common being unrestorable damage through decay, disease or trauma. We may also extract any wisdom teeth that are creating problems.
Filling—The procedure used to repair a small hole or cavity in a tooth. It restores the tooth to its original shape and function. Some of the most common materials used for fillings are gold, amalgam (silver), ceramics (porcelain) and a composite resin.
Gum disease—Usually caused by a build-up of plaque, gum disease is an inflammation of the gums due to bacterial infection. There are two types of gum disease—gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis—A mild form of gum disease where the gums become red and swollen, and may even bleed. Left untreated, it can lead to periodontitis—a more severe form of gum disease that can lead to weakened gums and even tooth loss.
Healthy teeth—Twice daily brushing, once a day flossing, mindful eating and drinking, and regular visits to your dentist will help keep your teeth healthy so they serve you well throughout your lifetime.
Impacted tooth—A tooth that has been blocked and prevented from fully breaking through the gum. It’s usually caused by a lack of space in your mouth. Wisdom teeth are most commonly impacted.
Incisor—A sharp tooth that cuts the food you bite into. The mouth has eight incisors: four up top, four at the bottom, and all are positioned at the front.
Jaw—The common name for what us dental folk fancily refer to as the maxilla (upper jaw) or mandible (lower jaw). They’re the bony structures that form the framework of your mouth.
Keppel Dental—The dental practice for anyone in the Yeppoon and Rockhampton area.
Keratin—Proteins that help form tooth enamel, as well as hair, nails and skin.
Labial—What we call the area around the lips.
Lesion—A cut, injury or wound in or around the mouth. Lesions can be caused by trauma or by disease.
Molar—The large, flat teeth at the back of your mouth used for grinding and chewing food. Most adults have twelve molars, although only eight may be present. The third set of molar teeth (the wisdom teeth) may not fit in the mouth because they’re impacted, in which case they’re whipped out.
Mouthguard—A must-have if you play sport. The thick, often spongy device covers the teeth and gums, protecting them from potential injury and avulsion. They can also be worn at night to prevent bruxism.
Notation—You may have heard your dentist speak in numbers when looking in your mouth and wondered what they refer to. Dental notation is a tooth numbering system that allows dentists to identify each tooth and their location in the mouth.
Oral—A reference to the mouth. For example, ‘oral health’ means ‘mouth health’.
Orthodontist—A dentist who has done further training to specialise in preventing, diagnosing and treating dental and facial irregularities such as bad bites, crooked teeth and jaw alignment problems. They’re the people who fit braces.
Periodontal—Means ‘around the tooth’ or relating to the structures surrounding and supporting the teeth (e.g. gums). We usually refer to ‘periodontal disease’ as ‘gum disease’.
Periodontitis—A severe infection of the gums caused by a build-up of bacteria on your teeth and gums. In the early stages the gums recede. Left untreated, it progresses to advanced stages of the disease that affect the connective tissue holding your teeth in place. If this deteriorates, tooth loss becomes likely.
Plaque—A soft, sticky substance made up of bacteria. It constantly collects on your teeth and makes them feel fuzzy. This article talks about plaque and its more serious associate, tartar.
Quadrant—One of the four sections your dentist divides the interior of your mouth into for reference—two upper and two lower.
Root—The part of the tooth that sits below the gums (think of tree roots). The number of roots varies depending on the tooth. Find out more about tooth anatomy here.
Root Canal Treatment—A dental procedure where the tooth’s damaged or infected pulp (i.e. the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue in the centre of the tooth that feeds it vital nutrients) is replaced with a root filling.
Scaling—The removal of plaque and/or tartar from around and between your teeth. We do it as part of your regular dental check-up to reduce the risk of gum disease.
Treatment plan—The plan you and your dentist put in place to manage your dental and oral health, including how to address any problems. It should be guided by realistic goals, expectations, limitations and budgets.
Unilateral—One-sided, or affecting one side of the mouth.
Veneers—Thin, tooth-coloured covers placed over teeth that are discoloured, chipped, worn, broken or crooked. Veneers are made from either porcelain or a composite resin.
Whitening—A procedure that involves bleaching the teeth to lighten their colour and remove stains. Here’s how professional tooth whitening works.
X-Ray—A picture of your teeth, including the roots and your jaw. They show your dentist what’s going on below the surface of your gums and teeth, and allow them to provide a more complete assessment of your oral health.
Yearly—OK, we’re stretching the ABCs a little on this one. Yearly is how often about 50% of our patients need to see us for a check up.
Zygomatic bone—The cheekbone or malar bone. (Chances are you’ll never hear us use this word. But it’s the only word starting with ‘Z’ that we can think of. And it may come in handy at your next trivia night.)
Congratulations. You’re now fluent in dentistry, and won’t have any trouble following along as we discuss your teeth at your next appointment.