Decoding the Language of Dentists


Every profession has its own language, and dentistry is no different. We try to use easy-to-understand language whenever we see patients, but we sometimes forget that people don’t understand all the terms we use. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly used terms and their meanings.


An abutment is a tooth adjacent to a missing tooth and can be used to support a bridge. It is also a special type of attachment that is screwed onto a dental implant and used to support an implant crown.


An amalgam is a filling material used to repair cavities and is an amalgamation of several different metals that include copper, zinc, silver, tin, and mercury.


We call any removable dental restoration or device an appliance, such as a brace, mouthguard, or denture.


A bitewing is a small x-ray taken to detect problems in a specific area of your mouth, such as tooth decay between teeth or an infection in the tooth root.


Also known as teeth grinding and clenching, bruxism is usually a nocturnal habit that can wear down your teeth, damaging your tooth enamel and even causing teeth to loosen. It’s often related to stress or other sleep disorders like sleep apnoea, or it could be due to misaligned teeth.


Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened dental plaque and forms a mineralised deposit on your teeth. It’s very hard and can only be removed during a professional dental cleaning.

Composite Resin

This tooth-coloured filling material is made from plastic, ceramic, quartz, or glass particles. Nowadays, we are more likely to use composite resin to fill a tooth than amalgam, especially if you want a virtually invisible filling.

Dry Socket

After a tooth is extracted, a blood clot forms in the empty socket and protects it while it heals. If the blood clot is dislodged, it leaves the empty socket open, so you may be able to see the exposed bone and more vulnerable to infection. Dry socket can form several days after tooth extraction, so the socket becomes increasingly painful. It is easy to treat and only happens in a small percentage of cases.


If you hear this term, it simply means your teeth do not bite together properly, so they are misaligned. A malocclusion or poor bite is often the reason why people have braces.


Plaque is a sticky biofilm made from saliva, bacteria and other substances, including food particles. Most plaque is removed when you brush and floss your teeth, which is why a regular oral care routine is so important.


A veneer can be made from composite resin or porcelain and is custom-made to cover the front surface of a tooth to improve its overall appearance. Dental veneers are often used in cosmetic dentistry.

This is just a small selection of some of the terms we use in dentistry, so if you hear us using another term and don’t understand, please ask us for an explanation.