Dental Terms

Below are some common dental terms used at the Dental Depot. Please ask your dentist or dental hygienist if you have further questions about these terms:

Michelle and Rob working


AMALGAM: Dental amalgam is the most commonly used restorative material for dental fillings. It is comprised of 43% to 54% mercury (by weight); the remaining powder is made up of mainly silver and some tin, copper, and zinc. Amalgam typically has greater longevity when compared to other restorative materials, such as composite (see definition below).

CALCULUS (see also TARTAR): Calculus is a form of hardened dental plaque caused by the continual accumulation of minerals from saliva on plaque on the teeth. Brushing and flossing can remove plaque from which calculus forms. Once calculus is formed, however, it is too hard and firmly attached to be removed with a toothbrush. Routine dental visits are necessary so calculus buildup can be professionally removed with ultrasonic tools and specialized instruments.

COMPOSITE: A dental composite typically consists of a resin-based oligomer matrix and an inorganic filler such as silicon dioxide. A composite is placed while still in a soft, dough-like state, but when exposed to a certain blue light, it hardens into the solid filling. The main advantage of a dental composite over traditional materials such as amalgam is improved aesthetics.

DENTAL BRIDGE: Dental bridges serve to "bridge the gap" created by one or more missing teeth. A bridge is made up of two crowns for the teeth on either side of the gap and a false tooth/teeth in between. Dental bridges are supported by natural teeth or implants (see definition below).

DENTAL CARIES (TOOTH DECAY): Dental caries, also known as tooth decay or cavity, is a disease in which bacterial processes damage hard tooth structure. Tissues in the tooth progressively break down, producing cavities (holes in the teeth). If left untreated, the disease can lead to pain, tooth loss, and infection. Today, caries remains one of the most common diseases throughout the world.

DENTAL CROWN: A dental crown is a tooth-shaped "cap" that a dentist places over a tooth. It covers the tooth to restore its shape, size, strength, and/or improve its appearance. A crown, when cemented into place, fully encases the entire visible portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line.

DENTURES: Dentures are prosthetic devices constructed to replace missing teeth. A denture is supported by surrounding soft and hard tissues of the oral cavity. Dentures can help patients by aiding in mastication (chewing ability), aesthetics, speaking ability, and self-esteem.

IMPLANTS: A dental implant is an artificial tooth root used to support restorations that resemble a tooth or group of teeth. A typical implant consists of a titanium screw with a roughened or smooth surface. Dental implants can be used to support a number of dental prostheses, including crowns, bridges or dentures (see definitions for these dental terms above).

PERIODONTAL (GUM) DISEASE: Periodontal disease is an acute or chronic infectious process affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth. The primary cause of periodontal disease is the accumulation of plaque at and under the gum line. If left unchecked, periodontal disease can result in bone loss and eventual loose teeth/tooth loss. Periodontal disease is usually a slow, painless and progressive process. Most adults with periodontal disease are unaware they have it. If diagnosed and treated early, however, the teeth can be saved.

PLAQUE: Dental plaque is a colorless biofilm that develops naturally on the teeth. It is formed by colonizing bacteria trying to attach itself to the smooth surface of a tooth. Plaque is soft enough to come off if scraped with a fingernail. If not removed, it starts to harden within 48 hours; in about 10 days the plaque becomes dental calculus (tartar), very hard and difficult to remove. Dental plaque can lead to dental caries and gingivitis.

SCALING: Periodontal scaling includes the removal of plaque, calculus and stain from the crown and root surfaces of teeth.Scaling and root planing are often referred to as deep cleaning, and may be performed using a number of dental tools. These tools include ultrasonic instruments and hand instruments, such as periodontal scalers and curettes.

TARTAR: Like calculus, tartar is a form of hardened dental plaque caused by the continual accumulation of minerals from saliva on plaque on the teeth. Its rough surface provides an ideal medium for further plaque formation, threatening the health of the gums (gingiva). Plaque accumulation causes the gingiva to become irritated and inflamed; this is referred to as gingivitis.

WISDOM TEETH: Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teenage years or early twenties. When these teeth are healthy and properly aligned, they can be a valuable asset to the mouth. More often, however, they are misaligned and require removal.

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