Dental Terminology Explained 

November 26, 2021 - Digital Resource Blogger

Have you ever gone to your Santa Clara dentist and didn’t understand the complex terminology they used? We use many big, complicated words in the medical field to describe diseases and conditions that might leave you feeling confused. Let’s go over some of the lingo we might use during your dental appointment, so you can understand everything that’s going on. 

Santa Clara dentist discussing things to his patient

Why Should You Understand Dental Terminology? 

No, you don’t have to be in dental school to know the terms we use at the office! However, having a basic understanding of the words we say while performing your treatments can allow you to better know what’s going on with your health. After all, you’ll want to know what your dentist means when they say you need a gingivectomy! 

Common Terms Used in Dentistry 

As with most medical terms, conditions and illnesses are made using common prefixes, suffixes, and root words. If you’re familiar with suffixes like -ectomy and -itis, then you’ll know you’re having something surgically removed, or a certain area is swollen. It all depends on what the root word is! 

Understanding the terms we use in dentistry should be a breeze once you know these words. Below are some of the common terms and conditions used in dentistry and what they mean: 


Bruxism is a term used for a condition where you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth at night. It comes from the prefix brux-, which means gland or chew. The suffix -ism is the act, practice, or process of doing something. Bruxism can result in issues like headaches and jaw pain if you don’t address it. 


Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. Halitus is Latin for breath, and the Greek suffix -osis means “a state of disease.” When you merge the two together, you get this condition that affects the way your breath smells. Halitosis generally doesn’t go away by just cleaning your mouth and may be a sign of something more serious. 


Malocclusion is another way of saying crooked teeth. It comes from the prefix mal-, which means bad. In dentistry, occlusion is defined as the contact between your teeth when your upper and lower jaw come together. When you think about it, malocclusion literally translates to “bad bite.” 


Periodontal refers to the structures surrounding the teeth. Peri- is the prefix for around, and odont- is the term for tooth. If you see a periodontist, they check for concerns around your teeth to make sure they’re nice and healthy! Similarly, periodontitis affects the soft tissue and surrounding bone around your teeth. 


Xerostomia is the clinical term for dry mouth. This condition prevents the salivary glands in your mouth from making enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth often occurs because of aging issues or as a side effect of some medications. Xerostomia is made up of the prefix xero-, which means dry, and the suffix -stomia, which is a condition of the mouth.  


Radiograph is commonly known as dental x-rays. The prefix radio- refers to radiation, and -graph is what’s used to record or take a picture. We take radiographs of your teeth to evaluate your oral health and identify issues like decay, cavities, or impacted teeth. 


Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. Gingiva is the gums, and the suffix -itis means inflammation. Therefore, if you have gingivitis, it’s the word to describe your swollen gums. Fortunately, a professional dental cleaning can help treat this concern, and better oral health practices can keep it away! 

Santa Clara dentist talking to her patient

Are You Looking for a Santa Clara Dentist? 

Now that you’re familiar with some of the common words used in dentistry, it’s time to put them to the test. Schedule an appointment at Dr. Jayne Dentistry today and see if you know the terminology Dr. Jayne Hoffman uses during your treatment!