Home Search SiteMap Contact Us
Glossary of Terms
Delta Dental of Idaho > Subscribers > Glossary of Terms Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Use this page for a handy reference to common dental benefits and oral health terminology. Many of these terms are in your benefit booklet.

To find the definition of a term, use the letter directory given below. Simply click on the letter that begins the word you are looking for and you will be taken to that letter section of the glossary. Click on "A," for example, and you will be taken to all terms beginning with the letter "A."

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X Y Z

Abrasion — The abnormal wearing away of tooth substance by a mechanical process.

Abutment — A support and retention device for a fixed or removable prosthesis. For example, this may be the natural tooth that is nearest the space left by a missing tooth when it has been crowned (or fitted with an inlay or onlay) and becomes one end of a fixed bridge. An abutment is also a natural tooth to which the clasp of a partial denture is fitted.

Actisite — A plastic fiber impregnated with the antibiotic tetracycline. Used by general practitioners or periodontists, it is placed in specific sites in the gums that have active periodontal disease to eliminate or reduce the disease-causing bacteria. See Dental Health Information, Did You Know, "Gum Disease Can Be Treated Without Surgery.".

Alveolar bone — The bone surrounding the roots of teeth.

Amalgam — Common silver fillings comprised of modern materials that are an amalgamation (hence the name) or mixture of silver, tin, copper and mercury. Zinc is sometimes added to this mixture as well. The material is mixed together creating a soft mass that can be placed into a prepared cavity where it chemically sets, forming a ridged silver filling.

Analgesic — A mild remedy, such as aspirin, for relieving pain.

Anesthesia — Absence of pain sensation. Local anesthesia is used to numb a tooth; general anesthesia is used to render the patient unconscious.

Apicoectomy — Surgical removal of the apex or tip of a root in order to remove diseased tissue.

Asymptomatic — No clinical symptoms of the disease in question.

Atridox — An approved (Federal Drug Administration) antibiotic gel that dentists apply to the patient's periodontal pocket. As it biodegrades, it releases the antibiotic doxycycline over about a week's time with the intent of killing the disease-causing bacteria. See Dental Health Information, Did You Know, "Gum Disease Can Be Treated Without Surgery.".

Attrition — The normal loss of tooth substance resulting from friction caused by physiologic forces.


Bruxism — Involuntary, "nervous" grinding of the teeth, typically while a person is asleep.


Caries — Tooth decay or cavities.

Caries Susceptibility Test — A test done to determine how likely someone is to develop tooth decay. The test is usually done by measuring the concentration of certain bacteria in the mouth. See Dental Health Information, Did You Know, "Certain Folks Are at Risk for Tooth Decay?".

Class I — See Reimbursement levels

Class II — See Reimbursement levels

Class III — See Reimbursement levels

Composite — An alternative to an amalgam silver filling. A tooth-colored restorative material composed primarily of polymers (plastics) with filler materials composed of silica, quartz or ceramic particles. The polymer is usually cured with visible light or may be chemically cured.

Copayment — The amount a person is responsible for paying toward the cost of his or her dental treatment after the dental carrier has paid the predetermined percentage of the total treatment. Many dental plans have a copayment policy.

Crown — The portion of a tooth covered by enamel or a restoration that covers all or most of the natural tooth above the gum line.


Deductible — Most dental plans have a specific dollar deductible. During a benefit period, you will have to personally pay a portion of your dental bill before your dental carrier will contribute to your bill. Your plan booklet will describe how your deductible is applied. Plans do vary on this point. For instance, some dental plans will apply the deductible to Class I services, and others will not.

Defective margins — Edges of restorations (fillings) that have become uneven through wear or chipping of the tooth or the filling material.

Demineralization — The process of losing tooth enamel.

Dentures — A removable set of artificial teeth.

Desensitizing agents — Materials applied to teeth to reduce sensitivity for such reasons as temperature, touch, acids, biting, etc.

Diagnostic — Procedures to help the dentist evaluate your dental health to determine necessary treatment.

Dry mouth syndrome — Decrease in production of saliva (also called xerostomia). See Dental Health Information, Dry Mouth Syndrome.


Erosion — The loss of tooth structure from chemical (usually acidic) action; parts of the tooth's surfaces are dissolved and lost.

Exclusions — Dental services not provided under a dental plan.


Filed fees — Approved fees that participating Delta Dental member dentists have agreed to accept as the total fees for the specific services performed.

Filling — Restoring lost tooth structure with metal, alloy, porcelain, or resin. (See "amalgam" and/or "composite.")

Fissure sealant — A material applied to teeth to seal the surface irregularities and prevent tooth decay.


Gingiva/gingival curetage — Removal of inner tissue from a gum pocket. The American Dental Association and periodontists no longer consider this therapy effective.

Gingiva — The gums.

Gingivectomy — Removal of gum tissue.

Gingivitis — Inflammation of gum tissue.


Iliac crest — The curved top of the pelvic bone above the hip.

Immediate denture — A removable dental prosthesis constructed for placement immediately after removal of the remaining natural teeth.

Implants - Dental implants are metal posts that are surgically inserted into the bone of the jaw to replace the roots of missing teeth.  After placement, the implants integrate with the bone of your jaw and act as artificial tooth roots.  Replacement teeth - singularly or grouped on a bridge of denture - are then mounted to the implant and provide the biting and cosmetic portion of the tooth

Initial placement — The first delivery of a crown, bridge, or denture as opposed to a replacement.


Jump rebase — A process of refitting a denture by replacing the denture base material without changing the occlusal relations of the teeth.


Limitations — Restricting conditions — such as age, period of time covered, and waiting periods — under which a group or individual is covered.


Malalignment — A less than ideal position of a tooth or teeth.

Maximum — The maximum dollar amount a dental plan will pay toward the cost of dental care within a specific benefit period. Most plans have an annual dollar maximum. The patient is responsible for paying costs above the plan maximum.

Micro-fractures — Very early fracture lines in teeth due to biting or grinding forces (also called "craze lines"). These "micro-fractures" are not associated with symptoms of discomfort or sensitivity.

Molars — The 12 back teeth in the entire mouth (or the three back teeth in each quarter of the mouth if the wisdom teeth are counted). See Dental Health Information, "Sealants".

Morphology — The study of form and structure of an organism.

Mutans streptococci — A group of bacteria that live in the mouth's saliva and is the cause of tooth decay in humans. See Dental Health Information, "Bacteria and Tooth Decay."


Occlusal equilibration — Modification of the biting surfaces of opposing teeth to develop harmonious relationships between the teeth themselves, the neuromuscular mechanism, the temporomandibular joints, and the structure supporting the teeth.

Occlusion — How the upper and lower teeth come together.

Osseous surgery — A procedure modifying the bony support of the teeth by reshaping the alveolar process to achieve a more physiologic form. This may include the removal of supporting bone (ostectomy) and nonsupporting bone.

Overdenture — A complete or partial removable denture supported by retained roots or dental implants to provide improved support and stability.

Overhang — Excess filling material projecting beyond cavity margins.

Overt pathology — Very obvious disease.


Pathology — The branch of science that deals with disease in all its relations, especially with its origin and the functional and material changes it causes.

Pathosis — A disease entity or pathologic condition. A dental cavity is a pathosis.

Patient management problems — Adverse behavior by the patient connected to an episode of treatment or attempted treatment.

PerioChip — A tiny, bullet-shaped, biodegradable chip that is inserted under the gum into an isolated periodontal pocket. It releases the disease-killing chemical chlorhexidine over about a week's time and subsequently resorbs. See Dental Health Information, Did You Know, "Gum Disease Can Be Treated Without Surgery."

Periodontal disease — Gum disease.

Periodontal maintenance — Therapy for preserving the state of health of the gums and tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. Also known as a perio recall.

Periodontal scaling/root planing — The removal of hard deposits, with metal scalers and curettes, on the root surfaces. The intent is to remove the diseased elements of the root surface, thereby permitting healing and potential reduction in depth of the periodontal pocket.

Periodontal surgery — Gum surgery that includes the treatment of the diseased teeth and their supporting structures.

Periodontal splinting — The ligating, tying, or joining of periodontally involved teeth to one another to stabilize and immobilize the teeth.

Plaque — A soft, sticky substance that accumulates on teeth; it is composed largely of bacteria and food substances suspended in saliva.

Posterior — Situated behind or toward the rear.

Preventive — Procedures to prevent dental disease.

Prophylaxis — Procedure for preserving the health and preventing infection of teeth.

Prosthesis — An artificial replacement for the mouth used in dentistry.

Pulp — The nerves, blood vessels, lymphatics, and connective tissue inside a tooth.

Pulp exposure treatment — Treating the pulp or "nerve" that has been uncovered, generally in the process of removing tooth tissue destroyed by decay, in an attempt to promote healing and therefore make root canal treatment unnecessary.

Pulpotomy — Partial removal of the pulp.


Recontouring — The reshaping of any surface of a natural or artificial tooth.

Reimbursement levels — Many dental plans offer three classes of covered treatment. Each class provides specific types of treatment and typically covers those treatments at a certain percentage. Class I procedures are typically diagnostic and preventive, and are usually covered at the highest level to encourage patients to seek preventive care. Class II includes basic procedures — such as fillings and extractions — which are reimbursed at a slightly lower percentage. Class III is for major procedures — such as crowns and dentures — that are reimbursed at yet a lower percentage. See Dental Benefits Explained

Reline — To resurface the tissue side of a denture with new material so that it will fit more accurately.

Restoration — The replacement part or portion restored on a damaged tooth (filling).

Root Canal Therapy (R.C.T.) — The nerve of the tooth is removed from the canal inside the root and replaced with an inert filling material.

Root planing — The smoothing of the root surface. See Root Planing in "Gum Disease Can Be Treated Without Surgery" in Dental Health Information.


Scaling — The removal of the hard deposits on teeth called calculus or tartar. See Scaling in "Gum Disease Can Be Treated Without Surgery" in Dental Health Information.

Sealant — See "Fissure Sealant."

Space maintainer — A mechanical or prosthetic device used to prevent the drifting of teeth in an area where there has been premature loss of a tooth or teeth.

Stainless steel crown — A preformed steel crown used for the restoration of badly broken-down primary teeth and first permanent molars. Also used for temporary restoration of badly damaged teeth.

Superstructure — A structure constructed on or over another structure. For example, a removable denture that fits snugly onto the protruding implant abutments.


Temporary/Interim Denture — A dental prosthesis that is planned to be used for a short interval of time, generally during a healing period following surgery.

TMD (temporomandibular joint) — The point where the lower jaw connects to the skull and upper jaw.

TMJ disorder — The term given to a condition characterized by facial pain and restricted ability to open/move the jaw.


Vertical dimension — The vertical height of the face, in particular the distance from the tip of the nose to the point of the chin, with the teeth in occlusion acting as stops or at an equivalent distance if the teeth are not present.


Xerostomia — Decrease in production of saliva See Dry Mouth in "Dry Mouth Syndrome" in Dental Health Information.


Privacy Statement  |  Nondiscrimination Notice  |  Website Feedback  |  Delta Dental Locations

© Copyright 2001-2016 Delta Dental of Idaho.  All Rights Reserved.