Dental Glossary

//Dental Glossary

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    Brushing is the foundation of good oral hygiene. Many of the foods we eat cause the bacteria in the mouth to produce acids that attack the enamel on your teeth. Food debris and bacteria in the mouth can also cause plaque to accumulate on your teeth, leading to gum disease and cavities. Brushing after meals removes food debris and helps prevent plaque from forming on the teeth.

    The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your brush should fit your mouth, allowing you to reach all areas easily. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, which helps protect your teeth from decay.

    Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do a good job of cleaning your teeth.

    Cavity (Tooth Decay):

    Tooth decay is the destruction of the tooth enamel. It occurs when foods containing sugars or starches are left on the teeth for long periods. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Unlike skin and bones, teeth can’t heal themselves. Tooth decay can be treated, but none of the various fixes available is permanent. The smallest cavity creates a cycle of repair and re-repair that continues for the life of the tooth. If the decay is relatively contained, a dentist can remove it and fill the resulting hole with one of several types of materials that bond with the remaining tooth.  If the decay is more wide-spread, the dentist may recommend a crown to replace larger portions of the tooth. Once the decay penetrates to the soft material inside the tooth, you may need a root canal or an even more invasive procedure.

    You can help prevent tooth decay by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, clean between your teeth daily with floss or inter-dental cleaner and eating nutritious and balanced meals and limiting snacking.

    Cosmetic Dentistry:

    Unlike traditional dentistry, which focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating oral disease, cosmetic dentistry is aimed at improving the appearance of a person’s teeth, mouth and smile. Services such as teeth whitening, veneers, natural tooth colored fillings and dental implants can give you the smile you smile you have always wanted. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Thanks to technological advancements in natural-looking, tooth-colored materials, today’s cosmetic dental treatments more durable and predictable than in the past. At the same time, traditional dentists are now using more conservative cosmetic dentistry techniques to preserve as much of your natural tooth structure as possible and making use of more natural looking materials. For example, for teeth to look natural, light must be able to travel easily through them. Standard porcelain crowns have a metal substructure that blocks light, causing off color teeth with black lines. But new technology allows dentist to use all-porcelain crowns and bridges, which allow light to reflect naturally.

    Dental Bridges:
    If you are missing one or more teeth, it can affect your health as well as your appearance. The resulting gap in your mouth can cause your remaining teeth to shift, resulting in a change in your bite and possibly leading a joint disorder or speech impediment. It also puts you at increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay. Dental bridges, like dental implants and partial dentures, are used to replace missing teeth, alleviating the stress in your bite. The restoration can be made from gold, alloys, porcelain or a combination of these materials and is bonded onto surrounding teeth for support. During an initial visit, the abutting teeth are prepared. Your dentist removes a portion of enamel to allow room for a crown to be placed over them. Next, impressions of your teeth are made, which serve as a model from which the bridge, pontic, and crowns will be made by a dental laboratory. Your dentist will make a temporary bridge for you to wear to protect the exposed teeth and gums while your bridge is being made. During the second visit, your temporary bridge will be removed and the new permanent bridge will be checked and adjusted, as necessary, to achieve a proper fit. Multiple visits may be required to check the fit of the metal framework and bite. The success of the bridge depends on the solid foundation offered by the surrounding teeth. So it’s important to keep your remaining teeth healthy and strong.

    Dental Crowns:

    A dental crown is a cap that is placed over your tooth to restore its normal shape and size.  It can be used to repair a large cavity when there isn’t enough healthy tooth left to support a filling, or when an existing filling must be replaced. A crown can also be used for cosmetic reasons to cover a tooth that is discolored or misshapen. It’s also used as part more extensive repairs, for example, to cover a dental implant or to hold a dental bridge in place. Crowns can be made from metal, porcelain-fused-to-metal, resin, or ceramic materials. Preparing a tooth for a crown usually requires two trips to the dentist. On the first visit, the dentist will anesthetize your tooth and the surrounding gum tissue before filing the tooth down to make room for the crown. On the other hand, if a large area of the tooth is already missing, the dentist will use filling material to build it up. After reshaping your tooth, your dentist will take an impression to be sent to a laboratory where the crown will be manufactured. This typically takes a couple of weeks. In the meantime, you will get a temporary crown affixed with temporary cement. It’s not as durable as a permanent crown, so avoid sticky or hard foods and take care flossing. On the second visit, your dentist will remove the temporary crown check the fit of the permanent crown before numbing the tooth and cementing it in place.

    Dental Fillings:
    When you get a cavity, the dentist removes the decay and fills the hole with a “filling.” For more than 100 years, amalgams composed of mercury and silver were the most commonly used type of filling, because they are strong, durable, less expensive and more likely than other kinds of fillings to be covered by insurance.  More recently, there’s been growing concern about the toxicity of mercury, and some dentists have stopped offering them.  The Food and Drug Administration now says fillings with mercury may be harmful to pregnant women, children, fetuses and people who are especially sensitive to mercury. It has committed to issuing special controls on mercury fillings in July 2009. Other options include tooth-colored materials made from powdered glass and resin compounds. When these composites were initially introduced, they were not very strong and were used primarily in the front teeth. Newer composites are stronger, although they still tend to wear more than metal-based materials and generally need earlier replacement. Porcelain, gold, and other metals are also used as filling materials.

    Dental Flossing:
    Brushing can only do so much to prevent tooth decay; the bacteria that cause decay still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth daily with floss or some other kind of inter-dental cleaner. This helps remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.  It is important in preventing periodontal (gum) disease.

    Here’s the ADA’s recommended method: break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger will take up the floss as it becomes dirty. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.?Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.? Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up and down motions.

    People who have difficulty handling dental floss may prefer to use special brushes, picks or sticks. Ask your dentist about how to use them properly, to avoid injuring your gums.

    Dental Hygiene for Infants and Toddlers:

    A child’s primary, or “baby,” teeth typically start to erupt between the ages of six months and a year. They are as important as the permanent adult teeth.  Baby teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing under the gums. The American Dental Association recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. You should brush your child’s teeth twice a day, and always at bedtime. Use a soft, small toothbrush with only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste – young children are apt to swallow it, ingesting more fluoride than is good for them. Try to make the routine fun by making silly faces or singing songs, so the child will look forward to it.  If he or she can hold the toothbrush, let him or her start brushing, and then finish the job yourself. Once a child has most of his or her baby teeth, it is time for you to start flossing them, if only to get the child in the habit of seeing and feeling floss in his or her mouth. You might notice that your child has spaces between the teeth; this is common because the permanent teeth can be twice as large as the baby teeth.

    Dental Hygiene for the Tooth Fairy Years:
    Once your child reaches school age, his or her baby teeth are falling out and permanent teeth are growing in.  The first permanent molars usually erupt between ages five and six. Parents often mistake them for baby teeth, but these molars are especially important because they help determine the shape of the lower face. They also affect the position and health of permanent teeth. So treat them kindly.

    At this age, kids’ schedules typically pick up with sports and other after-school activities, making mornings and bedtimes rushed and hectic for many families. Skipping brushing in the morning once in awhile will not jeopardize children’s oral health, but set a firm time for brushing before bedtime.

    By now your child is probably able to brush his or her own teeth, but you will still need to supervise to make sure he or she is doing a thorough job. And they’ll still need help flossing, although you should try to involve them in the process.

    Dental Hygiene for Teens and Young Adults:
    By the time your children reach their teens, they will have most of their permanent teeth and should be brushing and flossing on their own. Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last to erupt. They usually appear in the late teens or early 20s. If there’s plenty of room in the mouth, wisdom teeth can be an asset. But more often, these third molars become misaligned, crowding or even damaging adjacent teeth, jawbone or nerves.

    Your dentist can determine whether your child has wisdom teeth and how they are aligned using x-rays. He or she may recommend removing wisdom teeth even before problems develop, since it’s easier to do when patients are young and the wisdom teeths’ roots haven’t fully developed. About 85% of wisdom teeth will eventually have to be removed, according to information posted on the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon’s website.

    Dental Hygiene for Adults and Seniors:
    Your permanent teeth are meant to last a lifetime, so dental hygiene is just as important for adults as it is for children. As we age, our gums tend to recede from the teeth, potentially exposing tooth roots to plaque. Smoking also causes the gums to recede. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, a softer tissue than enamel. They are susceptible to decay and are more sensitive to touch and to hot and cold. According to the American Dental Association, the majority of people over age 50 have tooth-root decay.

    Decay around the edges of fillings is also common to older adults. And many adults have a number of fillings because they grew up without the benefits of fluoride and modern preventive dental care. Over the years, these fillings can weaken and tend to fracture and leak around the edges. Bacteria accumulate in these tiny crevices, causing acid to build up, which leads to decay.

    Dental Implants:
    Crowns and traditional bridges may not be your only options for replacing missing teeth. If you have good general and oral health, you may also be a candidate for a dental implant, which is an artificial tooth root placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants preserve more healthy teeth than traditional bridgework, since implants do not rely on neighboring teeth for support. Implants can also offer more stability because they fuse to your bone.

    Implants are not an option for everyone. They require surgery, so patients must be in good health, have healthy gums, have adequate bone to support the implant and be committed to meticulous oral hygiene and regular dental visits.

    First, surgery is performed to place the anchor. Surgery can take up to several hours, and up to six months may be required for the bone to grow around the anchor and firmly hold it in place. Some implants require a second surgery in which a post is attached to connect the anchor to the replacement teeth. With other implants, the anchor and post are already attached and are placed at the same time.

    After the gums have had several weeks to heal, the next step is begun. The artificial teeth are made and fitted to the post portion of the anchor. You may require several fittings, so this step can take one to two months.

    Dental Sealants:
    Dental sealants are plastic materials that cover the chewing surfaces of teeth, helping to prevent decay. They are usually applied to the back teeth (molars and premolars), which tend to have depressions and grooves that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush or floss. Children and teenagers, who may have poor eating habits and are less practiced at brushing and flossing, are obvious candidates for sealants, although adults can also benefit.

    First your dentist cleans the teeth, dries them, and applies an acid solution designed to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then ‘painted’ onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden. Treatments can last for years but the teeth should be checked regularly to asses whether the sealant should be reapplied.

    Dentures are plastic appliances with plastic or porcelain teeth attached to them. They are used to replace a number of teeth missing in a single arch of the mouth.

    There are various types of complete dentures. A conventional full denture is made and placed in the patient’s mouth after the remaining teeth are removed and tissues have healed, which may take several months. An immediate complete denture is inserted as soon as the remaining teeth are removed. An advantage of immediate dentures is that the wearer does not have to be without teeth during the healing period. However, your bones and gums can shrink over time, especially during the period of healing in the first six months after the removal of teeth. When gums shrink, immediate dentures may require rebasing or relining to fit properly.

    Dentures are very delicate and may break if they are dropped even a few inches. You should stand over a folded towel or a basin of water when handling them. Like natural teeth, dentures must be brushed daily to remove food deposits and plaque. Dentures may lose their shape if they are allowed to dry out. When they are not worn, dentures should be placed in a soaking solution or in water.


    Fluoride is a naturally occurring compound that helps prevent tooth decay. If ingested into the body, it becomes incorporated into tooth structure. Topical fluoride also strengthens teeth already in the mouth. For the past 60 years, communities in the U.S. have been adding fluoride to the water supply, resulting in a measurable decrease in tooth decay in children and adults, according to the American Dental Association. If you don’t live in a fluoridated community, dietary supplements are an effective, albeit more expensive, alternative. They are available by prescription from your pediatrician as drops for infants six months or older and tablets for children and adolescents. The appropriate amount varies with age and weight.

    Ingesting too much fluoride can produce dental flourosis, which is a disruption in the formation of tooth enamel in early childhood. That’s why toothpaste tubes come with a warning that children under six should only use a “pea-sized” amount. It’s assumed kids younger than six are apt to swallow some toothpaste. Also, by the age of six, most tooth enamel, with the exception of wisdom teeth, has typically already been formed, so the risk of flourosis is largely gone.

    Laser Dentistry:
    There are a variety of uses for lasers in the dentist’s office. They can be used to remove decay, whiten teeth, reshape gums and to harden bonding materials used in fillings. Lasers are also used in periodontal care to remove bacteria from pockets in the gum. Dental lasers emit light that delivers quick pulses of heat energy to the treatment area. Various wavelength are used depending on the type of tissue being treated.  Proponents say surgical lasers are more accurate than traditional dental treatments and allow the dentist to conserve as much bone and tooth as possible. However they are more expensive than traditional drills and can’t be used in many commonly performed dental procedures. They also don’t eliminate the need for anesthesia.

    Oral Piercings:
    Piercing the tongue, lip or cheek may be attractive to some people, but it presents a number of health risks. Your mouth contains millions of bacteria, not to mention the bacteria that may be on the jewelry and on the hands of the person doing the piercing. Any time you create a wound in your mouth, you run the risk of getting an infection. Common symptoms after oral piercing include pain, swelling, infection, an increased flow of saliva and injuries to the gum tissue, according to the American Dental Association. If a blood vessel was in the path of the needle during the piercing, severe and difficult-to-control bleeding can result. The jewelry itself also presents some hazards. You can choke on any studs, barbells or hoops that come loose in your mouth, and contact with the jewelry can chip or crack your teeth. If you decide to go through with procedure, despite these risks, take care in selecting the studio that performs it. Look for a clean appearance. Make sure the equipment is sterilized and the staff use disposable gloves. Ask to see their health certificate.

    Orthodontics Basics:
    Orthodontic treatment is used to correct malocclusion, better known as a “bad bite.” This describes teeth that are crowded or crooked. In some cases, the upper and lower jaws may not meet properly and although the teeth may appear straight, the individual may have an uneven bite. A bad bite may be inherited, or it may be the result of thumb sucking, accidents or losing teeth prematurely.

    Correcting the problem doesn’t just create a nice-looking smile, it also results in a healthier mouth. That’s because crooked and crowded teeth can be difficult to clean, which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss. An improper bite can also interfere with chewing and speaking, cause abnormal wear to tooth enamel and can lead to problems with the jaws.

    There are two types of orthodontic appliances: fixed, which are worn all the time and can only be removed by the dentist, and removable, which the patient can take out of the mouth. A dentist selects the type based on your needs.

    Root Canals:
    A root canal is a treatment used to repair a tooth when decay has penetrated beyond the enamel to the nerve and pulp at the tooth’s core. This can happen when a tooth is cracked or there is a deep cavity. The infected nerve and pulp must be removed to prevent the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected as well and abscesses may form. You could eventually lose your tooth.

    Treatment involves from one to three visits. Your general dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in problems of the pulp) removes the diseased pulp. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned and sealed. A temporary filling will be placed in the crown opening to protect the tooth between dental visits. Your dentist may leave the tooth open for a few days to drain. You might also be given medicine to help control infection that may have spread beyond the tooth.  On a subsequent visit your temporary filling is removed and the pulp chamber and root canals are filled and sealed. In the final step, a gold or porcelain crown is usually placed over the tooth.

    Smoker Dental Care:

    Cigarettes and other tobacco products are bad news for your teeth, and not just because they contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. Tobacco products also increase users’ risk of periodontal (gum) disease, a leading cause of tooth loss. In fact, smoking may be responsible for almost 75% of periodontal diseases among adults, according to the American Dental Association. Tobacco products damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth.  A receding gum line exposes the tooth roots and increases your risk of developing a sensitivity to hot and cold, or tooth decay in these unprotected areas. In addition to these health risks, tobacco smoke can cause staining of the teeth and tongue as well as bad breath.


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