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Dental Terms

Understand dental terms and concepts.


An abfraction is an angular notch in a tooth at the gumline. It is generally caused when biting forces are not aligned with the long axis of the tooth. Some dentists believe similar notches at the gumline may be produced by aggressive brushing, use of a coarse toothbrush, and brushing immediately after consuming acidic beverages.

The wearing away of tooth structure through some unusual or abnormal mechanical process such as tooth grinding, an improper bite, a hard-bristled toothbrush, or poor brushing technique.

Also known as: Infection

An abscess is a localized inflammation in the bone and/or soft mouth tissues usually caused by an infection. Abscesses commonly occur at the end of the tooth root tip and result from severe tooth decay, trauma or gum disease. Symptoms include pain and swelling.

A condition with symptoms that appear suddenly, and are typically severe but short in duration. Acute conditions may sometimes become chronic.

Pre-diagnostic cancer tests can help dentists identify abnormal soft tissue lesions early, when treatment is most effective. These tests are prescribed when the dentist wants to evaluate soft tissue more closely than would be possible with the naked eye. When oral cancer is not diagnosed early, it is more difficult to treat. This is one of the main reasons that oral cancer has a higher mortality rate than many other forms of cancer.

There are two common tests a dentist would normally use: a soft tissue luminescence test, and a chemical luminescence test. A soft tissue luminescence test illuminates soft tissues with a special type of green light. A chemical luminescence test involves exposing tissue to a different type of light. Both of these tests are non-invasive, and do not involve harvesting tissue samples for laboratory examination.

Although these tests help to identify irregular tissue, they do not provide a diagnosis of oral cancer. They only highlight potentially cancerous lesions. To confirm a diagnosis, suspicious lesions will require a subsequent brush or scalpel biopsy for laboratory examination.

Sedation is generally safe when administered by trained and certified dentists or other licensed anesthesia professionals.

There are several different means of sedating patients for dental procedures, and each type of sedation has its own benefits and risks. Typically, the deeper the sedation, the greater the potential risk. Make sure to talk to your dentist and any anesthesia professionals in the dental office that will be involved in sedating you about the risks of sedation and your options before beginning any procedure.

In many states, dentists can administer minimal to moderate sedation (such as nitrous oxide or certain types of oral sedation) without advanced certifications like advanced cardiac life support (ACLS). In general, less training is required to perform sedation that is easier to reverse. However, even basic sedation services require dentists to be trained and certified by their state licensing authority. All practicing dentists must be current in basic life support (BLS) to perform any type of sedation.

Dentists administering deeper forms of oral or IV sedation and anesthesia are required by most state dental boards to receive advanced training and certification. As a general rule, only a small number of dentists are certified to provide deep sedation and general anesthesia. These are typically oral and maxillofacial surgeons, and dental anesthesiologists (which recently became a recognized specialty by the American Dental Association).

It is also common for dentists to retain licensed anesthesia professionals such as dental anesthesiologists or certified nurse anesthetists to provide sedation services in their practices. That way, the dentist can focus on the dental procedures while the anesthesia professional monitors your level of sedation, vital signs, etc.

In some cases, particularly when for patients with special needs or advanced medical concerns, dentists may recommend that services are performed at a hospital where there are experts to handle emergency situations.

It is completely appropriate to confirm that your dentist, or the professional administering the sedation, has all the required certifications for, and experience with, the type of sedation or anesthesia they will be administering for you.

Prolonged or excessive alcohol use can negatively affect your central nervous system, liver, kidneys, and other organs. It can also dramatically increase your risk of developing unhealthy oral conditions affecting your teeth, gums, and soft tissues in your mouth.

The alveolar ridge is the bony ridge along the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) of the jaw that holds the sockets of the teeth. Healthy alveolar ridges are essential to your oral health and critical elements for successful dental procedures such as implants.

An alloy formed by mixing one or more metals with mercury. Silver amalgam is a commonly used material for filling teeth.

Anodontia is a condition in which some or all primary or permanent teeth never form. Complete anodontia is rare, while partial anodontia is fairly common.

Your dentist may recommend the use of antimicrobial agents to treat periodontal disease that is not responding to treatment. Antimicrobial agents include mouthwashes, rinses, gels, and other medications that are generally applied throughout the mouth. They also include antibiotics that are applied to specific infected areas such as deep gum pockets.

Anxiety and depression affect about 50 million people each year. Signs and symptoms are not always obvious or reported, so the actual number of people coping with these conditions is likely much higher.

Anxiety and depression disorders and the medications used to treat them can affect your oral health. Understanding these connections can help you take the steps necessary to ensure you maintain good oral health while working to manage your illness.

If you have moderate to advanced periodontal disease, you may have deep pockets where the teeth emerge through the gums. Food, plaque, and unhealthy biofilm can accumulate in these pockets because they are difficult to clean on your own.

Apically positioned flap surgery, also called pocket reduction surgery, is a procedure where your dentist repositions your gums apically (toward the root tips). This helps to promote the healing of inflamed gum tissues, and preserve them so they can resist abrasion from food and brushing. The procedure also helps improve your ability to clean your teeth and gums, which helps delay or prevent tooth loss from periodontal disease.

As with any dental surgery, tooth pain, sensitivity and swelling can follow the procedure. Infections are also possible, but infrequent. When infections do occur, they are typically not severe, and can be managed with pain medication and antibiotics. Your dentist will discuss pain management strategies and how to speed healing following the procedure.

In rare cases, tooth pain and/or tooth sensitivity may not improve. This may require further treatment. The procedure may also make the tooth appear longer, as some of the tooth root may be exposed.

Usually performed by an endodontist, an apicoectomy is a minor surgical procedure to remove the tip or end of the root end of a tooth (apex) to treat an infection that cannot be resolved with root canal therapy.

Arthritis and periodontal disease both cause inflammation. There is growing evidence that each condition worsens the effects of the other. Periodontal disease may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), speed its progression, and undermine its treatment. Conversely, rheumatoid arthritis and its treatment put you at higher risk for a variety of oral health conditions.