Glossary – Common Dental & Periodontal Terms


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Abscess: A localized collection of pus in a cavity formed by the disintegration of tissues.

Abutment: A tooth or implant used for the support or anchorage of a fixed or removable prosthesis.

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis: Inflammation of the gingiva. Also known as Trench Mouth.

Advanced periodontitis: Inflammation of the supporting tissues of the teeth.

Alveolar bone: Compact bone that composes the alveolus (tooth socket).

Alveolus: The socket in the bone into which a tooth is attached by means of the periodontal ligament.

Ankylosis: Solid fixation of a tooth, resulting from fusion of the tooth and alveolar bone.


  1. The surgical removal of the apex of the tooth root. Most often done in conjunction with root canal therapy.
  2. The excision of the apical portion of a tooth root through an opening made in the alveolar cortical bone for removal of a seat of infection.


Apex: The anatomic end of the tooth root.

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Bone graft: Bone or bone marrow taken from one part of a patient’s own body and transferred to another.


Tooth grinding habit.

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Calculus: A hard deposit attached to the teeth, usually consisting of mineralized bacterial plaque.

Candida: Yeast often found in association with oral disease such as “thrush”.

Caverous resorption: Bone loss leaving hollow spaces. Such resorption may appear on radiographs of teeth with vertical root fractures.

Cementoenamel, Junction (CEJ): The area at which the enamel and cementum are united at the cervical region of the tooth.

Cementum: A mineralized bone-like tissue that covers the tooth root and blends with the periodontal ligament to hold the tooth in place.

Chlorhexidine: A biguanide antiseptic agent used to prevent colonization of micro-organisms on the surfaces of skin, mucous membranes, and teeth.

Collagen: A main supportive protein of skin, bone and other connective tissues.

Crater: A saucer-shaped defect of soft tissue or bone, often seen interdentally.

CT graft (connective tissue): Gum tissue grafted to cosmetically correct gum defects.

Curettage: Scraping or cleaning of the wall of a cavity or surface by means of instrumentation.

Cusp: A notable pointed or rounded eminence on or near the masticating(chewing) surface of a tooth.

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Debridement: The removal of inflamed, devitalized, contaminated tissue or foreign material from or adjacent to a lesion.

Decalcification: The removal of calcium salts from a bone or tooth.

Dehiscence: Drainage site.

Dental hygienist: A licensed, professional dental auxiliary who is both an oral health educator and clinician and who uses preventive, educational, and therapeutic methods to control oral disease.

Dental plaque: A sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth. The bacteria in dental plaque is what causes periodontal disease. If plaque is not removed carefully each day by brushing and flossing, it becomes calculus.

Dental prophylaxis: Teeth cleaning.

Dentifrice: Toothpaste

Dentin: The chief substance or tissue forming the body of teeth.

Dentition: Natural teeth in the dental arch: they may be primary or secondary teeth.

Denture: An artificial substitute for missing natural teeth. A complete denture replaces all of the teeth in an arch.

Distal wedge: A periodontal surgical procedure for removal of excessive soft tissue distal to a terminal molar and thus gain access to underlying bone.

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Edema: An abnormal swelling resulting from an accumulation of watery fluid in a tissue.

Edentulous: Without teeth.

Enamel: The hard calcified tissue covering the dentin of the crown portion of a tooth.

Epithelium: The tissue serving as the lining of the intra-oral surfaces. It extends into the gingival crevice and adheres to the tooth at the base of the cervice.

Etiology: The study of the causes of disease which results from an abnormal state producing pathological conditions.

Evulsion: The sudden tearing out, or away, of tissue due to a traumatic episode.

Excision: A cutting out: removal: the process of amputating or cutting away any portion of the body.

Exostosis: A benign bony growth projecting outward from the surface of a bone(tori).

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Fibroma: A tumor comprised of fibrous connective tissue.

Fistula: The drainage tract from an abscess.

Flap surgery: The periodontist makes an incision in the gum where periodontal pockets have formed. He or she reflects the gum flap away, exposing the tooth root and cleans all infection out from the pocket. Bone regeneration procedures such as bone-grafting may be performed at this point. The periodontist then positions the gum to reduce the pocket and promote healing. The incisionis sutured closed following the procedure.

Frenectomy: The excision of the frenum, the fold of mucous membrane connecting the lip and the alveolar process in the midline of both the maxilla and the mandible.

Free gingival gaft: Transplantation of palatal tissue to correct a gum defect.

Furca: Furcation. The anatomic area of a multi-rooted tooth where the roots diverge.

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Gingiva: The gum, tissues which immediately surround the teeth and are contiguous with the periodontal membrane and the mucosal tissue of the mouth.

Gingivectomy: The excision of the gum tissue to eliminate periodontal pockets.

Gingivitis: The first stage of periodontal disease. The gums usually become red, swollen and bleed easily. This is brought on by the bacteria in dental plaque if not removed on a daily basis.

Grafts: A piece of living tissue placed in contact with injured tissue to repair a defect or supply a deficiency.

Granuloma: Proliferation of inflammatory tissue.

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Halitosis: A foul or unpleasant breath

Hemisection: The surgical separation of a multi-rooted tooth through the furcation area in such a way that a root or roots may be surgically removed along with the associated portion of the crown. The procedure is most frequently performed on lower molars but may be performed on any multirooted tooth.

Hyperplasia: The abnormal multiplication or increase in the number

of normal cells.

Hypoplasia: Defective or incomplete development of normal cells.

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Idiopathic: Of unknown causation.

Impacted tooth: An unerupted or partially erupted tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone or soft tissue so that complete eruption is unlikely.

Implants: Artificial substitutes for tooth roots. Made from titanium and placed in the jaw, dental implants are either screw, cylinder or blade in form. Prosthetic teeth are attached to the part of the implant that protrudes through the gum. In many ways, dental implants function like natural teeth.

Inflammation: Localized protective response elicited by injury or destruction of tissues, which serves to destroy, dilute, or wall of both in injurious agent and the injured area.

Interdental: Situated between the adjacent surfaces of teeth in the same arch.

Interproximal: Between adjoining surfaces, such as the proximal surfaces of contiguous teeth.

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Jaw: A common name for either the maxillae(upper jaw) or the mandible(lower jaw).

Juvenile periodontitis: Inflammation of the supporting tissues of the teeth that has its onset at puberty.

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Keratin: A protein present hair, nails, teeth and bone.

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Labial surface: Toward the lip.

Lesion: An injury or wound.

Leukoplakia: A condition marked by the development on mucosal tissue of white, thickened patches which cannot be rubbed off and which sometimes show a tendency to fissure. It is common in smokers, and the affected tissue sometimes becomes malignant.

Lichen planus: An inflammatory mucocutaneous disorder characterized by discrete skin papules with a keratinized covering with a keratinized covering which often appears in the form of adherent scales. These oral lesions are common and sometimes the only manifestation of the disease.

Ligament: The connective tissue structure that attaches the roots of the teeth to the bone.

Lingual surface: Pertaining to the tongue.

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Maintenance therapy: An ongoing program designed to prevent periodontal disease from recurring for patients who have undergone periodontal treatment. Also referred to as supportive periodontal therapy.

Malocclusion: Imperfect occlusion of the teeth.

Mandible: The lower jaw.

Mastication: The process of chewing food in preparation for swallowing and digestion.

Maxilla: The upper jaw.

Mesial surface: Toward or situated toward the middle, or the center of the dental arch.

Mobility of teeth: The degree of looseness of a tooth.

Mucogingival: A generic term used to describe the mucogingival junction and its relationships to the attached gingiva, alveolar mucosa, frenula, muscle attachments and the buccal and labial vestibule.

Mucosa: The tissue lining the oral cavity.

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Necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis: A severe, recurring infection of the gums. This disease can include spontaneous bleeding from the gums, pain, a foul smell and dead or dying gum tissue. Recurrent episodes of the disease can lead to bone loss. Also called trench mouth. Usually associated with poor oral hygiene along with the triad of:

  1. Smoking
  2. Stress
  3. Poor Nutrition


Necrosis: Death of tissue, usually as individual cells, groups of cells, or in small localized areas.

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Occlusal: Pertaining to the contacting surfaces of opposing teeth.

Occlusion: Any contact of opposing teeth.

Oral hygiene: Removal of bacterial plaque with brushes, dental floss, and other special instruments. The maintenance of oral cleanliness.

Oral prophylaxis: The removal of plaque, calculus, and stain from the exposed and unexposed surfaces of the teeth by scaling and polishing as a preventive measure for the control of local irritational factors.

Osseointegration: The attachment of the bone to a dental implant. This usually takes three to six months after the implant has been placed in the mouth.

Osseous: Pertaining to bone.

Osseous surgery: Any surgical procedure that deals with the bony support of the teeth.

Osteogenesis: Development of bone: formation of bone.

Osteogenic: Any tissue or substance with the potential to induce growth or repair of bone.

Osteomyelitis: Inflammation of bone marrow and adjacent bone.

Osteoperiosteal: Pertaining to bone and its periostum.

Osteoplasty: Reshaping of the alveolar process to achieve a more physiologic form without removal of alveolar (supporting) bone.

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Palate: Hard and soft tissues separating the oral and nasal cavities.

Papilla: The portion of gingiva occupying the interproximal space between adjacent teeth.

Parasthesia: An abnormal sensation, such as burning, prickling, or numbness. It is usually caused by nerve injury and sometimes follows surgical procedures.

Pathogen: Any disease-producting micro-organism or material.

Periapical: Relating to tissue surrounding the apex of a tooth.

Pedicle graft: A graft elevated from a donor site, which remains attached at its base for nourishment and is transferred to an adjacent recipient site.

Periodontal: Situated or occurring around a tooth.

Periodontal ligament: The tissue that attaches the tooth to the bone. Usually destroyed by advanced cases of periodontal disease, creating increased mobility of the teeth.

Periodontal pocket: Toxins in plaque destroy the gum and connective tissues beneath the gum line. The gums pull away from the teeth, forming a pocket (space). As the disease progresses toward the bone, the pocket fills with plaque and infection. If not treated, the bone and connective tissue surrounding the tooth may become so severely damaged that the tooth will fall out or need to be extracted.

Periodontics: That branch of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their implanted substitutes.

Periodontitis: Inflammation of the supporting tissues of the teeth.

Periodontium: The tissues that surround and support the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligament and bone.

Plaque: Any organized mass, consisting mainly of micro-oraganisms, that adheres to the tooth or occupies the gingival crevice.

Polyp: A pedunculated tumor arising in a mucous membrane.

Posterior: Behind, situated to the back of.

Preventive treatment: Those procedures performed at intervals that assist the periodontal patient in maintaining dental health.

Probe: A slender instrument with a blunt end suitable for use in exploring a channel, wound or pocket.

Prognosis: A prediction as to the progress, course, and outcome of a disease.

Prosthesis: The replacement of any part of the human body by an artificial part.

Prosthetics: The art and science of supplying missing parts of the human body.

Provisional splint: A device used to provide temporary stabilization of mobile teeth.

Pulp: The richly innervated and vascularized connective tissue contained within the pulp chamber and root canal of a tooth.

Pulp Cavity: The internal space within a tooth which normally houses the dental pulp.

Pulpectomy: The complete removal of the dental pulp, root canal therapy.

Purulent: Containing pus.

Pus: A liquified product of inflammation consisting of leukocytes, degenerated tissue elements, tissue fluids and micro-organisms.

Pyorrhea: Flow of pus from a periodontal lesion.

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Quadrant: One of the four equal sections into which the dental arches can be divided for treatment.

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Radicular: Pertaining to the root of a tooth and its adjacent structures.

Radiopacity: The lighter hues on a x-ray.

Radiolucence: The dark hues on a x-ray.

Recall maintenance: An extension of periodontal therapy. The continuing periodic assessment and prophylactic treatment of the mouth.

Rapidly progressive periodontitis: A rare form of periodontal disease which affects young adults typically in the early twenties through mid-thirties. The disease is characterized by severe inflammation of the gums and a quick onset of the disease. May be related to several forms of rare systemic diseases including diabetes mellitus Type 1, Down’s syndrome, Papillon-Lefevresyndrome, and AIDS.

Recession: Location of the gingival margin apical to the cement to enamel junction.

Refractory periodontal disease: A form of recurring periodontal disease resistant to proven treatment methods which may reflect an underlying systemicor immunologic condition.

Refractory: Persistent, not readily responding to treatment.

Ridge augmentation: A surgical procedure to restore a deformity in the bony ridge.

Root: The anatomic part of a tooth normally within the alveolar bone and attached to it by the periodontal ligament.

Root amputation: Removal of a root from a tooth.

Root scaling and planing: A non-surgical procedure where the periodontist removes plaque and calculus from the periodontal pocket and around the tooth root and smoothes the root surfaces to promote healing.

Root planing: A procedure designed to remove cementum or surface dentin that is rough, impregnated with calculus, or contaminated with toxins or microoraganisms.

Root resorption: Loss or blunting of some portion of a root.

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Saliva: The tasteless, clear fluid secreted by the major and minor salivary glands.

Scaling: Instrumentation of the crown and root surfaces of the teeth to remove plaque, calculus and stains.

Sextant: One of the six relatively equal sections into which the dental arches can be divided.

Soft palate: The posterior, mobile part of the palate.

Soft tissue: Any noncalcified tissue.

Splint: An appliance or device employed to prevent motion or displacement of loose teeth.

Stent: An acrylic appliance used as a positioning guide or support.

Subgingival calculus: Calculus that is apical or below the gum line.

Sublingual: Area below the tongue.

Sulcus: A shallow fissure between the gingiva and the tooth.

Supporting structures: Those tissues immediately surrounding a tooth and connected with it.

Supraocclusion: Teeth usually out of contact with opposing members which have erupted beyond the occlusal level of adjacent teeth. Over-erupted.

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Temporomandibular joint: TMJ-The connecting, sliding hinge mechanism between the lower jan and the base of the skull.

Tomogram: An x-ray of a selected layer of the body. Gives a projection of the cross section of bone determining width.

Trauma: An injury or wound.

Trench mouth: Inflammation of the gingiva.

Tuberosity: A bulbous protuberance or elevation of a bone.

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Ultrasonic scaling: The use of an ultrasonic scaler to remove mineralized deposits from the tooth surface.

Uvula: A pendulous fleshy mass that hangs from the most posterior border of the soft palate.

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Vestibule of the mouth: That portion of the oral cavity which lies between gingiva and the lips and cheeks.

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