Module 4: Glossary of Oral Health Terminology



To increase understanding of the terminology used in oral health care, a glossary has been provided as a handout. The goal of this module is to increase understanding around the terminology of oral health care in general as well as that specific to PLWHA. Many of these terms are referenced throughout the curriculum and thus, this module is a useful reference tool to maximize comprehension and, utility as well as improve overall oral health literacy for clinic staff, and improve communication between medical providers and dental clinicians. Where applicable, this handout can be modified and provided to patients to include those terms used in patient-provider conversations.

Materials Needed

Copies of the glossary should be printed for distribution to each person.


A glossary handout of common oral health terminology begins on the following page to facilitate printing and photocopying.

Module 4: Glossary of Oral Health Terminology

Unless otherwise indicated, the definitions below are from the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA is a national standards development organization for oral health. Additional oral health terminology is available at:

abscess: Acute or chronic localized inflammation, probably with a collection of pus, associated with tissue destruction and, frequently, swelling; usually secondary to infection.

abscess, acute periradicular or acute apical: An inflammatory reaction to pulpal infection and necrosis characterized by rapid onset, spontaneous pain, tenderness of the tooth to pressure, pus formation and eventual swelling of associated tissues. May also be known as acute periapical abscess, acute alveolar abscess, dentoalveolar abscess, phoenix abscess, recrudescent abscess, and secondary apical abscess.

abscess, chronic periradicular or chronic periapical: An inflammatory reaction to pulpal infection and necrosis characterized by gradual onset, little or no discomfort and the intermittent discharge of pus through an associated sinus tract. May also be known as chronic alveolar abscess, chronic apical abscess, chronic dentoalveolar abscess, suppurative apical periodontitis, and suppurative periradicular periodontitis.

abutment: A tooth or implant fixture used as a support for a prosthesis.

abutment crown: Artificial crown also serving for the retention or support of a dental prosthesis.

accession: Addition of a test specimen, previously collected by a health care provider, to a laboratory specimen collection; recording of essential specimen identification data in a laboratory-maintained file in chronological order of laboratory specimen acquisition; assignment to the specimen of an identification code.

acid etching: Use of an acidic chemical substance to prepare the tooth enamel and/or dentin surface to provide retention for bonding.

adhesion: State in which two surfaces are held together by chemical or physical forces or both with or without the aid of an adhesive. Adhesion is one aspect of bonding.

adhesive: Any substance that joins or creates close adherence of two or more surfaces. Intermediate material that causes two materials to adhere to each other.

adjunctive: A secondary treatment in addition to the primary therapy.

administrative costs: Overhead expenses incurred in the operation of a dental benefit program, exclusive of costs of dental services provided.

administrative services only (ASO): An arrangement under which a third party, for a fee, processes claims and handles paperwork for a self-funded group. This frequently includes all insurance company services (actuarial services, underwriting, benefit description, etc.) except assumption of risk.

administrator: One who manages or directs a dental benefit program on behalf of the program’s sponsor. See dental benefit organization: third-party administrator.

adult dentition: The permanent teeth of adulthood that either replace the primary dentition or erupt distally to the primary molars.

adverse selection: A statistical condition within a group when there is a greater demand for dental services and/ or more services necessary than the average expected for that group.

allogenic: Belonging to the same species, but genetically different. See graft.

alloplastic: Refers to synthetic material often used for tissue augmentation or replacement.

allowable charge: The maximum dollar amount on which benefit payment is based for each dental procedure as calculated by the third-party payer.

alloy: Compound combining two or more elements having properties not existing in any of the single constituent elements. Sometimes used to refer to amalgam.

alternate benefit: A provision in a dental plan contract that allows the third-party payer to determine the benefit based on an alternative procedure that is generally less expensive than the one provided or proposed.

alternative benefit plan: A plan, other than a traditional (fee-for-service, freedom-of-choice) indemnity or service corporation plan, for reimbursing a participating dentist for providing treatment to an enrolled patient population.

alternative delivery system: An arrangement for the provision of dental services in other than the traditional way (e.g., licensed dentist providing treatment in a fee-for-service dental office).

alveolar: Referring to the bone to which a tooth is attached.

alveoloplasty: Surgical procedure for recontouring supporting bone, sometimes in preparation for a prosthesis.

amalgam: An alloy used in direct dental restorations. Typically composed of mercury, silver, tin and copper along with other metallic elements added to improve physical and mechanical properties.

analgesia: The diminution or elimination of pain.

anatomical crown: That portion of tooth normally covered by, and including, enamel.

ancillary: Subordinate or auxiliary to something or someone else; supplementary.

anesthesia, general: general anesthesia—a drug-induced loss of consciousness during which patients are not arousable, even by painful stimulation. The ability to independently maintain ventilatory function is often impaired. Patients often require assistance in maintaining a patent airway, and positive pressure ventilation may be required because of depressed spontaneous ventilation or drug-induced depression of neuromuscular function. Cardiovascular function may be impaired.

anterior: Mandibular and maxillary centrals, laterals and cuspids. The designation of permanent anterior teeth in the Universal/National tooth numbering system include teeth 6 through 11 (maxillary), and 22 through 27 (mandibular); primary teeth in the Universal/National tooth numbering system are designated C through H (maxillary), and M through R (mandibular). Also refers to the teeth and tissues located toward the front of the mouth.

anterior teeth: The six upper or six lower front teeth.

anxiolysis: The diminution or elimination of anxiety.

apex: The tip or end of the root end of the tooth.

apexification: The process of induced root development to encourage the formation of a calcified barrier in a tooth with immature root formation or an open apex. May involve the placement of an artificial apical barrier prior to nonsurgical endodontic obturation.

apexogenesis: Vital pulp therapy performed to encourage  continued physiological formation and development of the tooth root.

apicoectomy: Amputation of the apex of a tooth.

appeal: A formal request that an insurer review denied or unpaid claims for services or supplies provided. An appeal can be filed by a health care provider or a patient in an attempt to recover reimbursement from a third-party payer such as a private insurance company.

arch, dental: The curved composite structure of the natural dentition and the residual ridge, or the remains thereof, after the loss of some or all of the natural teeth. areas of oral cavity: A two-digit numeric system used to report regions of the oral cavity to third party payers.

  • 00 entire oral cavity
  • 01 maxillary arch
  • 02 mandibular arch
  • 10 upper right quadrant
  • 20 upper left quadrant
  • 30 lower left quadrant
  • 40 lower right quadrant

arthrogram: A diagnostic X-ray technique used to view bone structures following injection of a contrast medium into a joint.

artificial crown: Restoration covering or replacing the major part, or the whole of the clinical crown of a tooth, or implant.

avulsion: Separation of tooth from its socket due to trauma.


bicuspid: A premolar tooth; a tooth with two cusps.

bilateral: Occurring on, or pertaining to, both right and left sides.

bonding: Process by which two or more components are made integral by mechanical and/or chemical adhesion at their interface.

bridge: See fixed partial denture.

bruxism: The parafunctional grinding of the teeth.

buccal: Pertaining to or toward the cheek (as in the buccal surface of a posterior tooth).


calculus:Hard deposit of mineralized substance adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth or prosthetic devices.

canal: A relatively narrow tubular passage or channel.

canal, mandibular: the passage that transmits vessels and nerves through the jaw to branches that distribute them to the teeth.

canal, root: Space inside the root portion of a tooth containing pulp tissue.

cantilever extension: Part of a fixed prosthesis that extends beyond the abutment to which it is attached and has no additional support.

capitation: A capitation program is one in which a dentist or dentists contract with the program’s sponsor or administrator to provide all or most of the dental services covered under the program to subscribers in return for payment on a per-capita basis.

caries: Commonly used term for tooth decay.

carious lesion: A cavity caused by caries.

cavity: Missing tooth structure. A cavity may be due to decay, erosion, or abrasion. If caused by caries, also referred to as carious lesion.

cement base: Material used under a filling to replace lost tooth structure.

cementum: Hard connective tissue covering the outer surface of a tooth root.

ceramic: Non-metal, non-resin inorganic refractory compounds processed at high temperatures (600°C/1112°F and above) and pressed, polished, or milled—including porcelains, glasses, and glass-ceramics. See porcelain/ceramic.

clenching: The clamping and pressing of the jaws and teeth together in centric occlusion, frequently associated with psychological stress or physical effort.

clinical crown: That portion of a tooth not covered by tissues.

closed reduction: The reapproximation of segments of a fractured bone without direct visualization of the boney segments.

Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature (Code): A listing of dental procedure codes and their descriptive terms published by the American Dental Association (ADA); used for recording dental services on the patient record as well as for reporting dental services and procedures to dental benefit plans. The Code is printed in a manual titled Current Dental Terminology (CDT).

complete denture: A prosthetic for the edentulous maxillary or mandibular arch, replacing the full dentition. Usually includes six anterior teeth and eight posterior teeth.

complete series: An entire set of radiographs. A set of intraoral radiographs usually consisting of 14 to 22 periapical and posterior bitewing images intended to display the crowns and roots of all teeth, periapical areas and alveolar bone crest (source: FDA/ADA radiographic guidelines).

composite: A dental restorative material made up of disparate or separate parts (e.g., resin and quartz particles).

compound fracture: Break in bone which is exposed to external contamination.

coping: A thin covering of the coronal portion of the tooth, usually without anatomic conformity. Custom-made or pre-fabricated thimble-shaped core or base layer designed to fit over a natural tooth preparation, a post core, or implant abutment so as to act as a substructure onto which other components can be added to give final form to a restoration or prosthesis. It can be used as a definitive restoration or as part of a transfer procedure. core buildup: the replacement of a part or all of the crown of a tooth whose purpose is to provide a base for the retention of an indirectly fabricated crown. coronal: Refers to the crown of a tooth.

cracked tooth syndrome: A collection of symptoms characterized by transient acute pain experienced when chewing.

crown: An artificial replacement that restores missing tooth structure by surrounding the remaining coronal tooth structure, or is placed on a dental implant. It is made of metal, ceramic, or polymer materials or a combination of such materials. It is retained by luting cement or mechanical means. (American College of Prosthodontics; The Glossary of Prosthodontic Terms).

crown lengthening: A surgical procedure exposing more tooth for restorative purposes by apically positioning the gingival margin and removing supporting bone.

curettage: Scraping and cleaning the walls of a real or potential space, such as a gingival pocket or bone, to remove pathologic material.

cusp: Pointed or rounded eminence on or near the masticating surface of a tooth.

cuspid: Single cusped tooth located between the incisors and bicuspids.

cyst: Pathological cavity, usually lined with epithelium, containing fluid or soft matter.

cyst, odontogenic: Cyst derived from the epithelium of odontogenic tissue (developmental, primordial).

cyst, periapical: An apical inflammatory cyst containing a sac-like epithelium-lined cavity that is open to and continuous with the root canal.


debridement: Removal of subgingival and/or supragingival plaque and calculus which obstructs the ability to perform an evaluation; removal of contused and devitalized tissue from a wound surface.

dental implant: A device specially designed to be placed surgically within or on the mandibular or maxillary bone as a means of providing for dental replacement.

dentin: Hard tissue which forms the bulk of the tooth and develops from the dental papilla and dental pulp, and in the mature state is mineralized.

dentition: The teeth in the dental arch.

denture: An artificial substitute for some or all of the natural teeth and adjacent tissues.

denture base: That part of a denture that makes contact with soft tissue and retains the artificial teeth.

dry socket: Localized inflammation of the tooth socket following extraction due to infection or loss of blood clot; osteitis.


edentulous: Without teeth.

equilibration: Reshaping of the occlusal surfaces of teeth to create harmonious contact relationships between the upper and lower teeth; also known as occlusal adjustment.

evulsion: Separation of the tooth from its socket due to trauma. See avulsion.

excision: Surgical removal of bone or tissue.

exudate: A material usually resulting from inflammation or necrosis that contains fluid, cells, and/or other debris.


facial:The surface of a tooth directed toward the cheeks or lips (i.e., the buccal and labial surfaces) and opposite the lingual surface.

fascial: Related to a sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs, and other soft tissue structures of the body.

filling: A lay term used for the restoring of lost tooth structure by using materials such as metal, alloy, plastic, or porcelain.

fixed partial denture: A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or otherwise attached to the abutment teeth or implant replacements.

foramen: Natural opening into or through bone.

frenum: Muscle fibers covered by a mucous membrane that attaches the cheek, lips, and/or tongue to associated dental mucosa.


gingiva:Soft tissues overlying the crowns of unerupted teeth and encircling the necks of those that have erupted.

gingivectomy: The excision or removal of gingiva.

gingivitis: Inflammation of gingival tissue without loss of connective tissue.


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


malar: pertaining to the cheek bone.

maxilla: The upper jaw.

molar: Teeth posterior to the premolars (bicuspids) on either side of the jaw; grinding teeth, having large crowns and broad chewing surfaces.


obturate: With reference to endodontics, refers to the sealing of the canal(s) of tooth roots during root canal therapy procedure with an appropriately prescribed material, such as gutta percha in combination with a suitable luting agent.

obturator: A disc or plate which closes an opening; a prosthesis that closes an opening in the palate.

occlusal: Pertaining to the biting surfaces of the premolar and molar teeth or contacting surfaces of opposing teeth or opposing occlusion rims.

odontogenic: Refers to tooth-forming tissues.

odontoplasty: Adjustment of tooth length, size, and/or shape; includes removal of enamel projections.

operculum: The flap of tissue over an unerupted or partially erupted tooth.

oral health literacy: The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate oral health decisions.


periodontitis: Gum disease.


reline: Process of resurfacing the tissue side of a removable prosthesis with new base material.

removable partial denture: A removable partial denture is a prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth that can be removed by the patient.

retainer, orthodontic: Appliance to stabilize teeth following orthodontic treatment.

retainer, prosthodontic: A part of a prosthesis that attaches a restoration to the abutment tooth, implant abutment, or implant.

retrograde filling: A method of sealing the root canal by preparing and filling it from the root apex.

root: The anatomic portion of the tooth that is covered by cementum and is located in the alveolus (socket), where it is attached by the periodontal apparatus; radicular portion of tooth.

root, residual: Remaining root structure following the loss of the major portion (over 75%) of the crown. root canal: The portion of the pulp cavity inside the root of a tooth; the chamber within the root of the tooth that contains the pulp.


stomatitis: Inflammation of the membranes of the mouth.


temporomandibular (TMJ): The connecting hinge mechanism between the base of the skull (temporal bone) and the lower jaw (mandible).

temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD or TMJD): Abnormal functioning of temporomandibular joint; also refers to symptoms arising in other areas secondary to the dysfunction.

tooth bounded space: A space created by one or more missing teeth that has a tooth on each side.

transosteal (transosseous): Device with threaded posts penetrating both the superior and inferior cortical bone plates of the mandibular symphysis and exiting through the permucosa. It may be intraoral or extraoral.

transseptal: Through or across a septum.

treatment plan: The sequential guide for the patient’s care as determined by the dentist’s diagnosis and is used by the dentist for the restoration to and/or maintenance of optimal oral health.

trismus: Restricted ability to open the mouth, usually due to inflammation or fibrosis of the muscles of mastication.

tuberosity: A protuberance on a bone.


xerostomia: Decreased salivary secretion that produces a dry and sometimes burning sensation of the oral mucosa and/or cervical caries.


zygomatic bone: Quadrangular bone on either side of face that forms the cheek prominence.