The Center for Pediatric Dentistry
Common dental terms
Abscess – A complication of tooth decay or trauma (such as a broken or chipped tooth). Openings in the tooth enamel allow bacteria to infect the center of the tooth (the pulp), which can lead to infection and cause a toothache.
Cavity – A hole in the tooth caused by decay (also called a cary).
Crown – An artificial tooth or cover made of porcelain or metal.
Decay – A diseased tooth structure that’s softened by a cavity (the caries process). These “sugar bugs” are removed to create a hard surface so a filling can be placed.
Enamel – The hard surface of the tooth above the gum line.
Erupting – New teeth that have broken through the gums and are “on their way in.” They’re referred to as “erupting” until they are fully in the mouth.
Etchant – A gentle acid used to treat the surface of the prepared tooth so that the filling material will stick to the tooth.
Explorer – A tool used to check teeth for cavities (also called a “tooth counter”). It’s curved and sharp, but touches only the teeth. Most patients don’t even notice it.
Extraction – The removal of a tooth or teeth.
Filling – A plug made of metal or composite material used to fill a tooth cavity.
Fluoride – A chemical solution used to harden teeth and prevent decay.
Gingivitis – Swollen or inflamed gums caused by plaque around the teeth. The dentist or dental assistant will demonstrate how to brush the child’s teeth to remove plaque effectively.
Gingival – The area toward the bottom or gum side of the tooth (also called the cervical).
Gums – The firm flesh that surrounds the roots of the teeth.
Impacted tooth – A tooth that sits sideways below the gum line, usually requiring extraction (it’s often a wisdom tooth).
Medical history – Sharing important details, such as acute or chronic illnesses or hospitalizations. The dentist must know the patient’s health status in order to provide appropriate and safe treatment.
Night guard – A plastic mouthpiece worn at night to prevent teeth grinding; often used to treat TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder).
Occlusion – The way in which the teeth come together when the mouth closes (also called the “bite”). The dentist uses terms like “overbite” and “overjet” and “class I or class II or class III” to describe the bite.
Plaque – A sticky buildup of acids and bacteria that causes tooth decay.
Primary teeth – Baby teeth; also called deciduous teeth
Rubber dam – A square piece of vinyl or rubber used to isolate the teeth during a filling or other treatment (also called a “raincoat”). It keeps saliva and other debris away from the tooth.
Rubber dam clamp – A ring or button that hugs the back-most tooth in an area isolated with a rubber dam. It’s the “raincoat” that hugs the tooth.
Sealants – Clear or shaded pieces of plastic that protect the grooved and pitted surfaces of teeth by keeping out food and plaque that can cause cavities.
Spacers – These removable or fixed appliances are designed to prevent tooth movement. They’re generally placed after an extraction or in cases of teeth that were missing from birth. This allows new teeth to come into place and keeps the bite even (also called “space maintainers”).
Tartar – The hardened plaque that can form on neglected teeth (also known as calculus).