Have you ever heard your dentist use a word or phrase you didn’t really understand? If so, you’re not alone! It’s not uncommon for dentists to use words that might sound completely foreign to you — they use very specific dental terminology to describe what’s going on in your mouth. And although your dentist wants you to know what’s happening with your teeth so you can take better care of them, sometimes things get lost in translation.
Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist to explain any dental terms you aren’t familiar with. What’s important is that you understand any dental problems you might be having, your dental treatment options and your self-care strategies. The better informed you are, the easier it will be to take good care of your pearly whites. Here are some of the most popular dental terms you should know:
- Dentures: A denture is a removable replacement for missing teeth. Complete dentures are used when all the teeth are missing; partial dentures are used when some natural teeth remain. Dentures help you chew, eat and speak just like someone with a set of natural teeth.
- Implants: Dental implants are a permanent replacement for missing teeth. Implants are surgically placed into the jawbone where they anchor replacement teeth. Dental implants can replace a single tooth, several teeth or all of them. They can also be used to anchor a dental bridge or dentures into place.
- Invisalign¨: Invisalign is a brand of dental aligner. Dental aligners are clear, removable dental braces that rely on a series of progressive aligners to treat mild to moderate orthodontic problems. Each successive aligner is worn for about two weeks before moving on to the next.
- Laser Dentistry: A laser produces a very narrow, intense beam of light energy which can remove, vaporize or shape tissue. Dentists use lasers for the removal of tooth decay, gum disease treatment, root canal therapy, and teeth whitening procedures. Laser dentistry may reduce the need for drills and local anesthesia, plus control bleeding gums during dental surgery, and reduce healing times.
- Oral Surgery: This dental specialty is dedicated to correcting problems or damage to the teeth, mouth and jaw. An oral surgeon removes impacted wisdom teeth and prepares the mouth for dentures and/or dental implants. Problems with chewing, bruxism, TMD and even sleeping can be also fixed with oral surgery.
- Sedation: Sedation dentistry uses medication to help you relax during dental procedures. There are several types, including: inhaled sedation (known as nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”); oral sedation, which comes in pill form; IV sedation, which is delivered directly into the vein; and general anesthesia, which leaves you in a deep sleep during a dental procedure.
- Teeth Whitening: Teeth whitening is the process of temporarily lightening the natural tooth color, usually with a bleaching agent. There are over-the-counter whitening toothpastes, gels, strips and trays as well as professional in-office whitening procedures.
- TMJ: The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) connect your upper and lower jaws, allowing you to move your jaws up and down, side to side and forward and back. The term TMJ also refers to TMJ disorder, which can cause pain, headaches, toothaches, earaches and more.
- Veneers: Veneers (often called porcelain veneers) are wafer-thin shells that are attached to the front of a tooth to improve its color, shape, size or length. In addition to looking great, veneers are highly stain resistant and may even strengthen your natural teeth.
- Wisdom Teeth: These are the third set of molars and the final four teeth to make their appearance, usually some time between the ages of 17 and 25. Wisdom teeth can cause problems if there is not enough room for them to align themselves properly. Impacted wisdom teeth can be extremely painful and are usually removed.
Any other dental terms you’re not sure about? Just ask your dentist.