Educational Dental Glossary

Dentist of Bixby Knolls Educational Dental Glossary

Sometimes, hearing dental jargon from your North Long Beach dentist can be confusing. To help, we take time to educate our patients chairside – and also on our website! Here are some of the terms we use daily and their definitions. Learning some of them will help you feel confident about the treatment you receive and the services we provide.

Dentist of Bixby Knolls Educational Dental Glossary Image.

North Long Beach
Dental Glossary

The following terms include definitions pertaining to anatomy, diseases, and treatments.

  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F
  • G
  • H
  • I
  • L
  • M
  • N
  • O
  • P
  • R
  • S
  • T
  • U
  • V
  • W
  • X


Abrasion -

Enamel wear caused by external factors, including using a hard toothbrush or abrasive toothpaste. Using your teeth as tools, chewing pen caps, and biting your nails can also cause abrasion.

Abutment -

The structure that supports a fake tooth on a dental bridge or implant. Dental bridges have one or two abutments to support the pontic (fake tooth). An implant abutment connects the dental implant in the jawbone with the exterior portion (typically, a dental crown).

Air Abrasion -

Using compressed air or gas to blast small particles of baking soda or silica onto enamel. Air abrasion can remove stains, plaque, and shallow decay.

Anterior Teeth -

Your six upper and lower front teeth, specifically your central and lateral incisors and your canines.


Bitewings -

The most common and frequently prescribed dental x-rays. Bitewings allow us to see between the upper and lower posterior (back) teeth to check for decay.

Bonding -

Using composite filling material to correct aesthetic issues (minor cracks, chips, discoloration) or to fill a decayed front tooth.

Bruxism -

Clenching and grinding your teeth. Often done while sleeping or when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.


Calculus -

Calcified plaque that hardens onto the tooth. Also known as tartar. Calculus can only be removed with professional dental instruments.

Caries -

Dental decay.

Composite Filling -

A tooth-colored filling. Composite filling material is a resin made of fine glass and plastic particles. The material comes in various shades, so your Bixby Knolls dentist can match the color of your natural teeth.


Decalcification -

When the tooth loses calcium, making it weak and more susceptible to decay. Also known as demineralization.

Deciduous Teeth -

Baby/primary teeth.

Dentin -

The second layer of your tooth. The layer above it is enamel. The layer below is the pulp, commonly referred to as the nerve.


Edentulous -

A person who is missing all their teeth on at least one arch. Fully edentulous patients are missing all their teeth.

Endodontics -

A subspecialty of dentistry that focuses on treating the pulp and root of the teeth. A dentist within this specialty is called an endodontist.

Erosion -

Enamel wear is caused by acids, including gastric and dietary acids.


Fixed Appliances -

Dental restorations (prosthetics) that are cemented or bonded to the teeth. A dental bridge is a fixed appliance.

Fluoride -

A naturally occurring mineral that hardens the enamel, reducing the risk of dental decay.

Fluorosis -

Too much fluoride exposure while the permanent teeth are still developing. Fluorosis is not serious but causes tooth discoloration, which can be treated with cosmetic procedures. No one over the age of eight can develop fluorosis.


Gingivitis -

The first stage of gum disease. At this point, gum disease is reversible. You may have gingivitis if you have puffy, red gums, and light bleeding while brushing or flossing.

Gum Disease -

Gum disease is a chronic infection of the gums. Also known as periodontal disease. Once gum disease has progressed beyond gingivitis, it is no longer reversible but can be arrested.

Gum Recession -

When your gums recede and expose the root surfaces of your teeth. Gum recession is caused by gum disease, abrasion, and bruxism. Since roots don’t have an enamel covering, exposure can cause tooth sensitivity and increase decay risk. The possibility of tooth loss is also increased.


Halitosis -

Bad breath.

Hygienist -

A licensed dental professional who provides preventative dental treatments, including dental x-rays and cleanings. Hygienists can also perform deep cleanings to help arrest gum disease.


Impacted Tooth -

A tooth that cannot erupt (come into the mouth). A bony impaction is a tooth that remains in the bone. A partial impaction is a tooth that only comes into the mouth partially. Typically, there isn’t enough room on the jawbone for the tooth to come in.

Incisors -

The four front teeth on the top and bottom (called central and lateral incisors). These teeth are used to slice and bite.

Interproximal -

In between the teeth.


Labial -

Meaning “lips.” The term can refer to the lips or the surfaces of the teeth that face/touch the lips. For example: You have decay on the labial surface of your central incisor means you have decay on the tongue side of your front tooth.

Laser Gum Surgery -

Surgery utilizing a laser to remove diseased tissue and restore gum health.

Lingual -

Meaning “the tongue.” The term can refer to the tongue or the surfaces of the teeth that face/touch the tongue.


Malocclusion -

A misaligned bite.

Mandible -

The lower jawbone.

Maxillar -

The upper jawbone.

Molars -

Your back teeth. The smaller back teeth are called premolars or bicuspids because they are situated next to the molars and the cuspids. Molars and premolars help grind food.


Nerve -

Also called the pulp. This is the innermost layer of the tooth. It contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.


Occlusal -

The biting surfaces of your teeth.

Occlusion -

Also referred to as your bite, this is how your teeth fit together. Proper occlusion protects your teeth, jaw joints, and facial muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Malocclusion damages the teeth, causes tooth and facial pain, and contributes to TMJ disorder.

Orthodontics -

A subspecialty of dentistry that helps patients achieve optimal occlusion. A dentist that specializes in orthodontics is called an orthodontist.


Periodontitis -

Also called gum disease or periodontal disease. Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that damages the gums, destroys the jawbone, and is one of the leading causes of tooth loss.

Plaque -

The sticky substance that builds up on your teeth during the night and after you eat. Plaque is full of bacteria and can lead to decay and gum disease if not removed daily.

Posterior Teeth -

Your back teeth (molars and premolars/bicuspids).

Prophylaxis/Prophy -

A professional, preventative dental cleaning that helps remove tartar and plaque to prevent gum disease. Patients should get a prophy at least every six months.

Pulpitis -

Inflammation of the dental pulp (nerve).


Reline -

Resurfacing the inside of a full or partial denture. A reline is necessary when a patient experiences bone recession and their denture becomes ill-fitting. The reline makes the denture more secure.

Root Canal Therapy -

Cleaning the root chambers of the teeth and removing damaged or dying pulp tissue. Once the canals are cleaned, they’re disinfected and filled with protective material.


Scaling and Root Planing -

Scaling removes plaque, tartar, and stains from the teeth of a patient with gum disease. Root planing is planing or smoothing the roots to encourage the gum tissue to heal.

Supernumerary Teeth -

When you’re born with extra teeth. Wisdom teeth are not considered supernumerary teeth.


Tartar -

Also known as calculus, tartar is hardened plaque that cannot be removed with a toothbrush and floss.

Temporary Crown or Filling -

A temporary crown is made for patients who need to wait for the fabrication of their permanent crown. A temporary filling is placed in teeth that are sensitive due to extensive decay. Your Bixby Knolls dentist can determine whether the tooth needs a permanent filling or root canal treatment by seeing how it responds to a temporary restoration.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) -

The jaw joints. These joints connect the lower jawbone (mandible) to your upper jawbone (the maxilla, a part of your skull). The joint acts like a hinge, allowing your lower jaw to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back.


Underbite -

A form of malocclusion. The lower front teeth extend beyond the upper front teeth. The opposite of this condition is called an overbite, when the upper teeth extend beyond the lower teeth.

Unerupted Tooth -

A tooth that remains in the gums. Often, the cause is that the tooth hasn’t moved into the proper position to erupt normally.


Veneers -

Thin shells of porcelain that fit over the front teeth. Veneers can improve the appearance of crooked, gapped, crowded, worn, stained, chipped, cracked, and misshapen teeth.


Wisdom Teeth -

Also called the third molars. These are the last teeth to come into the mouth (erupt), usually between ages 17 and 25. Most people have two upper and two lower wisdom teeth. In some cases, patients might not develop one or more of these teeth.


X-ray -

An image of your tooth and/or jawbone. An x-ray allows your North Long Beach dentist to see what they can’t with the naked eye, including in between the teeth, inside the tooth, and under the gum line.

Our Goal Is to Help You Feel Confident

Our team works hard to ensure patient comfort. Our friendly staff greets every patient with a warm smile. We offer sedation options for patients with dental anxiety, and we’re big proponents of patient education. We hope this glossary has answered some of your questions.

Your Dental Paperwork Image

We Are Always Available to Answer Your Dental Questions

If you have questions regarding some of the words in our glossary or your custom treatment plan, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (562) 287-5175.