We have included a brief list of dental terms and information that may be of help to you as a patient.

  • Abfraction. This is a wearing of the tooth along the gum line caused by repeated clenching and grinding, causing the enamel to “pop” off starting at the base of the tooth. It can expose the gum line of the tooth to excessive wear. Once the enamel is gone, then dentin is exposed and the teeth are more susceptible to decay, sensitivity, and wearing down.

  • Abscess. An infection of either the tooth, gums or bone. Commonly appearing either clinically as a “gum boil” on the tissue, or on the x-ray, most often at the tip of the root or between the roots.
  • Abutment. These are the teeth on either side of a bridge. They support the bridge. A bridge is placed when a tooth is missing.
  • Amalgams . Silver fillings.
  • Attrition. This is the loss of tooth structure over time. Generally caused by wear, long term usage, and heavy usage of the teeth.
  • Braces. Are put on teeth to help correct rotated teeth, large spaces, crowding, or misalignment of teeth.
  • Bridge. A permanently cemented appliance that replaces missing teeth. The side teeth are called abutments and the missing replacement tooth is called a pontic.
  • Calculus. When the plaque hardens on your teeth, it is calcified and is referred to as calculus.
  • Caries. This is the dental term for a cavity (decay) on a tooth.
  • Composites. White plastic fillings. They restore the natural appearance of the teeth.
  • Crowns. Crowns are placed over a tooth when a large portion of the tooth is lost to decay or has broken off. Usually when a filling is more than half of the size of the tooth, the tooth is weakened.  Placing a crown over the tooth protects the chewing surface and prevents that from happening. Crowns that are white are made of porcelain and are usually placed in areas of esthetic concern. Gold crowns might be placed in the molar region or when there is heavy grinding that might damage the opposing teeth.
  • Dentures. False teeth.
  • Edentulous. Missing teeth in either arch.
  • EMPRESS crowns and veneers. This is a type of veneer, laminate, or crown that uses a technique in which a strong porcelain material is bonded to the tooth, rather than cemented.  It picks up a more natural color of the underlying tooth. These are becoming the standard of high esthetics for cosmetic dentistry. The material is similar to natural tooth structure in terms of brilliance and light reflection and it is similar to lucite in terms of strength, thereby giving a durable surface that looks very natural.
  • Gingival. The dental term for the gums, or supporting soft tissue around the teeth.
  • Halitosis. This is the term for “bad breath.”
  • Implants. Dental implants are replacements for missing roots. Most implants are typically titanium posts that are imbedded into the jawbone and then plastic or porcelain teeth are placed over the portion of the implant that sticks out of the gums. Usually they take several months to complete since the bone must fuse to the posts before any kind of pressure can be put on the implant itself.
  • Impaction. This typically refers to the wisdom teeth. When a tooth is impacted, it can either be partially impacted, soft tissue impacted or full bony impacted, depending upon how far into the tissue the tooth is.
  • Incisors. These are the front two teeth on either side of the midline.
  • Inlay. When a filling is large enough that more chewing support may be needed, an inlay may be used. These are typically lab-processed cases and are either porcelain or gold.
  • Mandible. The lower arch (lower jaw).
  • Maxilla. The upper arch (upper jaw).
  • Molars. The larger back teeth that are used for most of the chewing.
  • Night guard. This is a removable appliance that is fabricated to assist with grinding, bruxism, clenching, and TMJ symptoms. It is often worn at night to prevent the wearing down of the teeth surfaces.
  • Occlusal. The top chewing surface of the teeth.
  • Occlusal Guards. Bite splints or nite guards. If you have TMJ, it’s worth looking into getting an occlusal guard. These can be used to help relieve pressure, tension, and anxiety.
  • Onlay – When a tooth has a large filling that does not need a crown for side wall support, but a filling might not be strong enough by itself, or aesthetically compromised, then an only is placed. Generally, these are either cast from gold, a strong pressed ceramic type material or made from porcelain. They are more esthetic and more durable than fillings. They are more conservative than crowns and leave as much possible tooth structure as possible, while at the same time protecting the teeth.
  • Oral Surgery. One of the specialties of dentistry. It includes the removal of teeth, placing implants, and jaw surgery.
  • Orthodontics. One of the specialties of dentistry. It involves braces, for the straightening of teeth. Newer technologies may use pre-bent wires or mouth guards to assist in straightening teeth rather than applying braces to the teeth. Generally the procedures are done to straighten the alignment of the teeth for better form, esthetics, function, and speech.
  • Panoramic X-ray. These are taken using a special machine that takes the x-ray of the jaws with the film outside of the mouth and it shows a larger area, and all the teeth on one film. It is generally good for diagnosing caries, and for identifying cysts, infections, impacted teeth, or fractures. The resolution is generally not as good as the individual films to show cavities.
  • Pedodontics. Pediatric Dentistry – the treatment of children’s teeth.
  • Periodontal Disease. The irritation and swelling and bone loss that can occur if disease is untreated around the supporting tissues of the teeth. This is one of the more common and also preventable diseases.
  • Periodontal Pocket. The area of the gum tissue that attaches to the tooth at the top of the gums.  Healthy gums are 2-3 mm deep.  Pockets that are 4-6 mm or deeper, tend to trap food and bacteria easier and can lead to gum disease.
  • Permanent Teeth. Adult teeth. The second set of teeth that we get, starting around age six and ending at our third molars (wisdom teeth) around age 17-22.
  • Plaque.   The film that develops on teeth which is sticky and can develop into a calcified mass called calculus if not removed. It is food that is broken down with bacteria that combines to produce it.
  • Porcelain Veneers.  The thin pieces of porcelain that are used to change the shape, size, color, or position of teeth. Primarily used in the front teeth.
  • Posterior Teeth. The back teeth in the mouth beyond the canines.
  • Primary Teeth. This is the dental term for the first set of teeth. Also called baby teeth.
  • Prophylaxis. Also called a prophy. This is the basic cleaning of the teeth usually performed by a dental hygienist.
  • Root Canals. A root canal is typically done whenever the decay or injury to the tooth invades the inner part of the tooth where the pulp is. This is where the nerve and the blood supply are located. When a root canal is done, the inner portion of the pulp is removed, along with any infection that may have invaded the inside walls of the tooth.  A sealer material is placed with a rubbery plastic to fill the hole so that new infection cannot get into the tooth. Generally, by removing the root, it can potentially weaken a tooth.  It is common to protect the integrity and structure of the tooth by placing a crown over the tooth.
  • Sealants. Sealants are plastic coatings that are placed on the etched surface in the grooves of teeth-typically on the back molars and sometimes on pre-molars. It helps prevent sugars and bacteria from getting into those deep fissures and cause decay.
  • TMJ. The temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) is a very unique and fragile joint because of the numbers of tendons, ligaments, and muscles that are used to hold it in position, it is subject to trauma and stress. As a result, headaches, jaw soreness, and neck aches can all be related to TMJ.
  • Veneers. Thin coverings on the teeth, typically made of porcelain, but can also apply to composite materials. Veneers generally refer to the conservative version of a crown. The procedure is similar and the technique is more critical, since the veneers are basically translucent and pick up the core shade of the teeth.
  • Wisdom Teeth. These are the last teeth to erupt. They are the 3rd molars and generally do not come out until the age 17-25. Most people either do not have room in their mouth for them, or they come in crooked, or are impacted, and never fully erupt. They decay easily, and therefore are commonly removed on most patients.
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Butte Dental Care

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