Dental Procedures A-Z

Braces (orthodontic treatment) — once nicknamed “railroad tracks,” braces are metal, ceramic, or synthetic brackets and wires attached to the teeth, and adjusted regularly in order to move teeth into their proper places in the mouth. Braces are used on both adolescents and adults, and worn for six months to three years.

Bridge — nonremovable replacement for two or more missing teeth, anchored by teeth on either side of the gap. Bridges restore chewing ability and prevent neighboring teeth from shifting, which can result in a poor bite and gum disease.

Crown (“cap”) — part of the tooth that’s visible above the gum, or the artificial substitute for it. A restorative crown covers the top part of a tooth that is severely damaged or weakened by decay. A crown is made of metal, resin, porcelain, or porcelain-covered metal, and cemented onto the tooth.

Dentures, complete — removable artificial teeth used when all the top or bottom teeth have been lost. Mounted in a plastic base molded to fit your mouth, ideally dentures will stay in place merely from suction and a tight fit; at times, using a denture adhesive might be needed to hold them in place.

Dentures, partial — removable artificial teeth used when only some teeth are lost. Mounted in a plastic base to fit your mouth, partial dentures are similar to bridges except that they are removable and attach to adjacent teeth with a metal clasp. A partial denture is the simplest replacement when there are no teeth in the back of the mouth to support a bridge.

Filling, amalgam (silver) — a filling that contains mercury, silver, tin, and copper. After removing decay from a cavity, the dentist fills the hole with silver amalgam to restore function and prevent further decay and infection.

Filling, composite (white) — a tooth-colored filling made of resin and other materials. After removing decay from a cavity, the dentist fills the hole with a tooth-colored composite resin in order to restore function and prevent further decay and infection.

Fluoride treatment — chemical solution or gel applied to the teeth in the dental office (or prescribed for you to use at home). Fluoride helps strengthen teeth’s surface and prevent cavities.

Inlay — similar to a filling except that the inlay is molded outside your mouth to fit precisely into the space left by a cavity, then cemented into your tooth. They are often made of gold, but can also be composite resin or porcelain.

Implant — replacement for a missing tooth or complete upper and/or lower set of teeth. Unlike a bridge, the implant is surgically attached to the bone of your jaw. After a healing period, an artificial tooth is then attached to the implant.

Onlay — sometimes called a “partial crown,” an onlay is similar to an inlay but is cemented over a tooth under repair and builds up its shape. Onlays are made of composite resin, porcelain, or gold, and are crafted in a dental lab to make an exact fit for the damaged area of the tooth.

Prophylaxis — teeth cleaning procedure involving light scaling and polishing of teeth to remove plaque (a thin, sticky coating on the teeth that contains bacteria), slight calculus (mineralized plaque or tartar), and stains.

Root canal (endodontic treatment) — procedure in which the diseased nerve (also called the pulp or inside core) of a heavily decayed or damaged tooth is removed and the central pulp space of the tooth, including the root canals, are filled and sealed with cement.

Sealant — extremely thin plastic material painted onto the teeth to prevent decay. Sealants are often used on children’s back molars.

Scaling — procedure in which a dentist or dental hygienist removes plaque, calculus, and stains from teeth by scraping it off, usually with a hand scaler and/or an ultrasonic scaler. This process helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease. (See Prophylaxis)

Teeth Cleaning — see Prophylaxis.

Tooth extraction — procedure in which a tooth is permanently removed from its socket, usually because it is impacted, too badly decayed to be restored, or because gum disease is so severe that the tooth will soon fall out.

Teeth whitening (bleaching) — cosmetic procedure to brighten teeth using a bleaching agent that makes discolored or stained teeth whiter. Options include whitening strips, home-use kits (which use mouth trays filled with a bleaching agent) or procedures done in a dental office, which often use laser light in addition to bleach for more rapid whitening results.

Veneers — custom-made shells of porcelain or composite resin permanently bonded to teeth. This procedure is used instead of crowns to close spaces or cover badly stained or irregularly shaped teeth when the teeth are otherwise healthy with little or no fillings present.


Dental Terms. Academy of General Dentistry.

The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy

Treatments, Oral Health Topics, American Dental Association,

Oral Health Information Index, National Institute of Dental and Cranciofacial Research

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