Dawson Dental’s Glossary of Dental Terminology: Vol. 1

For the most part, dental terminology is pretty straightforward. Almost everyone is familiar with terms like “molar”, “root canal”, “cavity” and “acute periradicular apical abscess”. You have heard of acute periradicular apical abscesses before, haven’t you? Alright, probably not. But don’t feel bad. It just means that you’ve been staying on top of your dental and oral hygiene. Good for you!

Your dentist, however, will have spent years learning a bunch of medical terms like that one. You know, the kind of terms that sound like someone first wrote them on a papyrus scroll in a language that no one has spoken since togas were in vogue. If you’re lucky, you probably won’t encounter too many of those cryptic $10-words on your trips to the dentist’s office. But, just how familiar are you with even the most common of dental terms?

If listening to your dentist has been leaving you feeling like you’ve just taken a hit of nitrous oxide, don’t worry. We at Dawson Dental have compiled a glossary of dental terminology so that you can understand what your dentist is saying. If you’re as much of a fan of alliteration as we are, you might call this Dawson Dental’s Dental Dictionary.



Abrasion: In dentistry, abrasion refers to any type of injury that results from scraping or otherwise removing tissue in the mouth. Abrasion could occur on the surface of a tooth, the roof of the mouth, or any other biting surface or chewing surface within the mouth. Common culprits for these types of dental injuries are oral tools such as toothbrushes or hard, abrasive foods. We all love some toasty garlic bread even if it leaves us with some pretty bad abrasions—and really bad breath.

Abscess: An abscess is a collection of pus or other fluid that builds up within the body’s tissue—it’s every bit as gross as it sounds. Abscesses are usually the result of an existing infection and can present with delightful and not at all unpleasant symptoms such as swelling, redness, pain and sensitivity, and discharge.

Acute Periradicular Apical Abscess: There’s that $10, written-on-a-scroll term again. But now that you know what an abscess is, you can probably decode this Rosetta Stone of a medical term. Acute periradicular apical abscesses—or just periapical abscess for short—is a type of abscess that occurs at the root of a tooth. The abscess forms as a response to a bacterial infection that has permeated the tooth’s pulp through an untreated cavity or crack. These types of abscesses are very serious and, if left untreated, can lead to extreme pain, severe gum disease and may even become life-threatening. If you believe that you might have a periapical abscess, seek out your dentist immediately—and then impress them with your new dental vocabulary.

Alveolar Bone: The alveolar bone—otherwise known as the alveolar process—is the part of the jaw bone that holds our teeth firmly in place. In fact, humans technically have two alveolar bones; one on the maxilla and the other on the mandible (scroll down to “M” to learn what those terms mean). Our gum tissue covers most of the alveolar bone, which is why it’s so important to protect your gums.



Bicuspid: Sure, everyone is familiar with molars, incisors and canines. But what, exactly, is a bicuspid tooth? Also known as premolars, bicuspid teeth are teeth that have two “cusps” or two “points”. Using your tongue to count to the teeth on your maxilla from either of your front teeth, your first bicuspid should be the fourth tooth and your second bicuspid should be the fifth. The same goes for your mandible. Just don’t cut your tongue… they’re sharp.



Cuspid: If “bicuspid” means “two cusps” then, cuspid must mean… six cusps? Just kidding. Cuspid teeth are teeth that only have one cusp. Using our tongue-and-teeth counting technique once again, these cuspid teeth would be the third tooth on your maxilla and mandible. You might know them as your vampire teeth. If they start growing and you develop a craving for blood, you’ll need more help than a dentist can provide.



Deep Sedation: Deep sedation is an anesthetic state in which a patient is minimally conscious. Usually, the patient will have some response to repeated stimuli but will, generally, not have impaired cardiovascular function. Basically, it’s like anyone after a long day at the office.



Edentulism: If someone has one of those winning, toothless, all-gums smiles, you can say that they have an edentulous smile. Simply put, edentulism refers to the condition of having no teeth. Of course, edentulism is nothing that a dental prosthesis can’t solve.



Foramen: Because you’re now a dental terminology wizard, you know that your alveolar bone holds your teeth in place. And it uses foramen to do that. Foramen is any natural opening in or passage through bone. So, your teeth sit in the foramens of your alveolar bone. Now you really sound like a dentist.



General Anesthesia: General anesthesia refers to a drug-induced state of lowered or suppressed consciousness—because who wants to be awake for a dental implant? While under general anesthesia, a patient will require respiratory aid and may or not require cardiovascular aid.


Mandible: The mandible is the lower part of the human jaw bone. It also happens to be the strongest and largest bone of the human facial skeleton. Tough as it is, however, it won’t stand up to a jawbreaker.

Maxilla: The maxilla is the upper part of the human jaw bone. It doesn’t quite have the strength of the mandible so be sure to treat your maxilla with care or you might end up missing your two front teeth.

Mesial of the Tooth: The mesial of the tooth is the surface of the tooth that is nearest to the middle of your mouth’s arch. In other words, it is the “inward-facing” portion of the tooth that you floss regularly. You are, we hope, flossing regularly. Cavities that form on the mesial of a tooth can be difficult to treat as they are oftentimes “abutting” another tooth.


The A to Z of Dentistry

Obviously, we didn’t cover all of the medical terminologies in just this one entry—that would turn into a kind of “infinite scroll” situation. That being said, we’re always updating our glossary of dental terms so be sure to visit our blog regularly. There will be a quiz on your next appointment with Dawson Dental! Ok, maybe not. But come in and impress us with your knowledge of dental terminology anyway.