Your Guide to Some Common Dental Terms

By Albion Dental Office December 16, 2017

As a field of medicine, there is a certain level of complexity in the terms and concepts surrounding dentistry. Whether you’re interested in the field, have a child about to undergo a procedure, or trying to dispel some of your own fears about your next appointment, having a general knowledge of the terms can be helpful. After all, these are things that apply to everyone and it’s nice to know what you’re talking about when having a discussion with your doctor about your dental health. Next time you find yourself in the dentist’s chair, here are some terms you might hear:

  • Calculus: a type of hardened plaque that can build up in tough to reach areas. This is known to some as “tartar”, but calculus is the term that dentists use most frequently to describe this material
  • Impacted: a term used to describe the direction of a ‘sideways’ tooth, indicating that the tooth itself is being impeded from erupting normally into the mouth by interference from a tooth next to it
  • Gingivitis: inflamed/irritated gums caused by plaque at the gum line
  • Fluoride: a chemical used by dentists to prevent decay and harden enamel
  • Extraction: the removal of a tooth (or multiple teeth)
  • Crown: an artificial tooth cap made of metal or porcelain
  • Cavity: a hole within the tooth caused by dental decay
  • Occlusion: how your teeth fit together when your mouth is closed and your teeth bite together
  • Sealant: a layer of thin resin that is applied over the grooves on the biting surfaces of teeth (mainly done on molars and premolars) and keep out cavity-causing contaminants
  • Implant: a titanium screw placed within the jaw bone to hold a prosthetic tooth or dentures in place
  • Palate: the roof of your mouth
  • Root canal: a procedure in which the pulp (the nerve and blood vessels) material located in the center of your tooth is removed and filled with a particular kind of orange rubber called gutta percha
  • Incisor: the anterior teeth on both the upper and lower jaws
  • Debridement: removal of foreign matter and debris from the tissues in and around the teeth
  • Palliative: something that alleviates pain, but does not cure a condition
  • Suture: a technical term for stitches used to sew up a wound
  • Unerupted: teeth that still lie below the gum line and have not entered the oral cavity
  • Erosion: the loss of the enamel layer of the teeth due to exposure to acids in the mouth (e.g. carbonated soft drinks)
  • Filling: the common term for material used to restore tooth structure (most frequently this material is dental resin, a variant of plastic that can be placed within teeth that can replace tooth structure that is decayed
  • Malignant: cancerous
  • Benign: non-cancerous
  • Molar: your rear grinding teeth, having grooves, deep ridges and cusps

Your dentist will be happy to explain any terms used during your appointment that you are unfamiliar with. If you are fearful of dental appointments, doing research on your procedure and/or conditions from reputable websites such as (the website of the Ontario Dental Association) or (the website of the Canadian Dental Association) can help you feel more at ease.