Dental Dictionary

There are a lot of technical terms used to describe teeth, procedures and tools used to manage dental health. We’ve assembled a list of terms to help you navigate information about your child’s dental health.


A collection of pus that forms because of an infection.


Anything the orthodontist attaches to teeth to move the teeth or change the shape and/or position of the jaw.


The entire upper or lower jaw.


The metal wire that connects the brackets in braces to guide the teeth into their new alignment.


A dental x-ray that is taken with the top and bottom teeth together to detect cavities and the height of the bone support.


A fixed orthodontic appliance designed to align teeth. Traditional braces are made out of wire, but there are also clear plastic braces.


The small devices that are attached to each individual tooth as part of braces.


Teeth grinding. Many children grind their teeth at night due to stress or inner ear pressure. Most outgrow it between the ages of 9 and 12.

Canine (cuspids)

The third tooth from the middle on either side and on top and bottom (4 total). They are the longest human teeth and are generally more pointed than the rest of the teeth.

Canker sore

An ulceration (sore) in the mouth that is caused by trauma (for example, biting the inner cheek) or the herpes virus.


A hole in some part of the tooth. Left untreated, cavities can grow and cause further tooth damage.


A porcelain, plastic, or metal “cap” that covers a tooth (completely or partially) to protect it from further decay or restore aesthetics.


Part of a tooth, gum, or other tissue that has become diseased or rotten.

Dental radiographs

X-rays of the teeth and mouth.


The position, type, and number of teeth.


Artificial teeth designed to replace missing teeth or other dental structures. Dentures can be temporary or permanent and can replace one or many teeth.


The space between two teeth.

Elastics (rubber bands)

Small rubber bands that fit around the brackets on braces to hold the archwire in place.


The hard calcified tissue that covers the crown of the tooth.


The process of a new tooth growing in.


A type of restoration that fills in holes left by cavities or other damage. Restores a tooth’s function and prevents further damage.

Fixed Orthodontic Appliances

Orthodontic appliances that are attached to the teeth by the orthodontist and can’t be removed by the patient.


White or brown spots that form on a child’s teeth due to too much fluoride.

Functional appliances

Orthodontic appliances that use the mouth’s natural muscle movement (swallowing, eating, speaking, etc.) to move and align the teeth and jaws.


A mild form of gum disease where the gums become inflamed and bleed.


A removable orthodontic appliance that uses braces and an external archwire to modify growth and promote tooth movement.


A condition when a tooth is not able to come in normally because it is stuck beneath another tooth or bone.


The process of making a model of the teeth by biting into a soft material that hardens into a mold. Orthodontists and dentists use these impressions to prepare a treatment plan.


The 4 teeth in the front middle of the mouth, 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom.


Clear braces that straighten teeth as an alternative to traditional braces. Invisalign can correct some but not all orthodontic problems.


The last teeth in the back of the mouth, 3 each on the top and bottom of both sides of the mouth.


Contact between the upper and lower teeth.


A special field of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of bite abnormalities.

Pediatric dentist

A dentist that specializes in the oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years. They attend 2-3 years of additional training after dental school to learn how to deal with the specific needs of children and adolescents. They are experts in tooth growth and development and are well equipped to help avoid future dental problems.

Permanent teeth

Teeth that replace primary teeth starting around 6 years old.


The sticky film of saliva, food particles, and bacteria that contribute to gum disease and tooth decay.

Premolars (bicuspids)

The teeth located in front of the molars on each side (two each on top and bottom)

Primary teeth (baby teeth)

The first teeth that grow in from the time a child is 6 months to about 3 years. These teeth are lost in later childhood (6-10 years) as the child’s permanent teeth grow in.


The innermost part of a tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels.


An item used to restore the normal function of a tooth or other area of the mouth. Includes fillings, crowns, and bridges.


An appliance that is worn after braces are removed. It attaches to the upper and/or lower teeth to hold them in place. Some retainers are removable and others are bonded to several teeth.

Root canal

The canal that runs inside the root of the tooth and contains the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels.


A thin plastic material that covers the grooves of the premolars and molars. It acts as a barrier to food, plaque, and acid to protect the decay-prone areas of the teeth.

Separator (spacer)

A small rubber ring that creates space between molars or other teeth before braces or other appliances are fitted and attached.

Tempromandibular Joint (TMJ)

The joint between the upper and lower jaw.


A layer of tooth-colored material that attaches to the front of the tooth to improve its appearance. Can be made out of porcelain, composite, or ceramics.


An artificial sweetener that helps reduce cavities and other decay. Generally chewed as gum.


A home care remedy to prevent and relieve irritation caused by braces.

Wisdom tooth

The last tooth on each side in the back of the mouth. Generally grows in around age 17-21, but can be earlier or later in some people.