Glossary

Orthodontic Glossary

Here some handy definitions of terms that you may have read or heard about concerning orthodontics:

  • Anterior – This means “nearer to the front”, and it’s the opposite of “posterior”. The term “anterior teeth” refers to the incisors and canine teeth, while your posterior teeth are your molars and premolars.
  • Appliances – These aren’t the electric devices you plug into an electrical socket. In orthodontics, an appliance is a device used by your orthodontist that is attached to your teeth. This can be a removable device, or it may be more permanent until the orthodontist removes it. The purpose of the appliance is often to move your teeth into its ideal location or to correct the position of your jaw. The orthodontist may also install an appliance to hold your teeth in their finished position once the braces are removed.
  • Arch – This refers to the upper or lower jaw.
  • Archwire – This is the metal wire that is attached to the brackets. The archwire is used to move your teeth into a better position.
  • Band – This is the metal ring that wraps around the tooth for anchorage and strength.
  • Braces – This an orthodontic appliance used to straighten your teeth and fix your bite. It is made up of the brackets, bands, and wires.
  • Bracket – This is the attachment bonded into each tooth using an adhesive with the same color as your teeth. It has a slot into which the archwire goes through.
  • Brushing – This is one of the most important dental care rituals you need to do regularly to keep your teeth healthy. You will, however, need to adjust how you brush your teeth if you’re wearing braces.
  • Bruxism – This refers to the (bad) habit of grinding teeth, and it can often happen to people during sleep. This habit can lead to abnormal teeth wear and jaw pains.
  • Buccal – This refers to the cheek side of the back teeth.
  • Buccal tube – This is the tiny metal part of the bracket that’s welded to the cheek side of the molar band. This tube holds any type of appliance (such as the headgear facebow, lip bumper, or archwire) that’s required to move the teeth into a new position.
  • Cephalometric radiograph – This is the X-ray taken of the head from the side (lateral).
  • Chain – In orthodontics, this is the term used for a series of elastic O-rings that are connected together and put around each bracket. These O-rings secure the archwire in place while they also move the teeth into a better position.
  • Class I malocclusion – This is the most common type of malocclusion (see Malocclusion in this glossary). In this case, the bite is normal but the upper teeth are somewhat overlapping the lower teeth.
  • Class II malocclusion – This is also known as overbite, or retrognathism. It refers to when the upper jaw and teeth overlap the bottom jaw and teeth much more severely (especially when compared to the Class I malocclusion).
  • Class 3 malocclusion – This is also known as underbite, or prognathism. It’s when the lower jaw and teeth are overlapping the upper jaw and teeth. This happens because the lower jaw is protruding.
  • Closed bite – This is also known as a deep bite or deep overbite. It occurs when there’s an excessive overlap of the upper front teeth over the bottom front teeth.
  • Comprehensive treatment – This is a complete orthodontic treatment designed to correct a malocclusion.
  • Congenitally missing teeth – This is a genetic condition that causes missing teeth.
  • Crossbite – This is a condition that can affect groups of teeth that are misaligned laterally (to the sides). It occurs when a tooth is either closer to the cheek or to the tongue compared to the tooth in the upper or lower dental arch.
  • DDS or DMD – DDS is short for Doctor of Dental Surgery, while DMD refers to Doctor of Dental Medicine. They’re equivalent degrees, and every orthodontist from the US or Canada will have DDS or DMD after their names once they’ve completed their orthodontic residency program after dental school
  • Diagnostic records – These refer to the materials and information that the orthodontist needs to gather in order to properly diagnose a patient’s orthodontic condition and to create an appropriate treatment plan. These records can include the info gathered from a thorough patient health history and a visual examination of the teeth and their supporting structures. They also include a wax bite registration, plaster models of the teeth, intraoral and extraoral photos, and panoramic and cephalometric radiographs.
  • Ectopic eruption – This term describes teeth or a particular tooth that erupt in an abnormal position.
  • Eruption – This refers to how the teeth enter the mouth through the gums.
  • Extraction – In dentistry it means “removal”, and it generally refers to the removal of teeth.
  • Elastics – This is another term for the rubber bands that may be worn to move individual teeth or to align the jaw.
  • Facebow – This is a wire appliance used with headgear or a night brace. It has an internal and an external wire bow, and it’s mainly used to create some room for protrusive or crowded front teeth by moving the upper first molars back. The internal bow attaches to the buccal tube on the molar bands inside the mouth. The outer bow is attached to the nightbrace’s breakaway safety strap.
  • Fiberotomy – This is a surgical procedure performed to minimize the chances of relapse or tooth movement after orthodontic treatment. This surgery severs the fibers of attachment around the tooth.
  • Fixed appliances – Unlike a removable appliance that a patient can take off at any time, a fixed appliance should not be removed by the patient but only by an orthodontist. In any case, removal is generally difficult as the fixed appliance is cemented or bonded to the teeth.
  • Flossing – In addition to brushing the teeth, flossing is also another integral part of daily dental care. Flossing refers to the use of a special string (floss) that removes food debris and plaque from between the teeth. The floss can also be used to clean between brackets and wires.
  • Frenectomy – The frenum is the lip and tongue attachment that’s located between the upper and lower front teeth. If the frenum is too large, it can spacing between the top front teeth. The removal or repositioning of this frenum is called a frenectomy.
  • Functional appliances – These are also known as orthopedic appliances. They work by using the muscle action people produce when they’re swallowing, eating, or talking, and this force is used to align the jaws and move the teeth.
  • Gingiva – This is another word used for the gums. Specifically, it refers to the soft tissue around the teeth.
  • Gummy smile – This is a condition that occurs when a person smiles and shows an excessive amount of gum or gingival tissue above the front teeth.
  • Headgear – This is an appliance worn outside the mouth. Its placement is to provide traction to move the teeth
  • Herbst appliance – This is a kind of function appliance that’s designed to move the lower jaw forward. It can be removable, and when it’s fixed it is cemented with stainless steel crowns to the teeth in one or both of the arches. An expansions crew may also be used at the same time to widen the patient’s upper jaw
  • Impaction – This is when the tooth doesn’t erupt into mouth, or if it only partially erupts.
  • Interceptive treatment – This is a type of orthodontic treatment to moves to correct a potential problem before it develops even further. Younger patients are generally the recipients of interceptive treatments as they have both permanent teeth and primary (baby) teeth.
  • Interproximal reduction – This treatment removes a small amount of enamel from between the teeth to reduce the width of the teeth. It has several other alternative names, including selective reduction, enamel reduction, stripping, slenderizing, and reproximation.
  • Labial – This term refers to the surface of the teeth that faces the lips.
  • Ligating modules – A ligating module is a tiny elastic O-ring that’s looks similar to a very small donut. It’s used to secure the archwire in the bracket.
  • Lingual – The side of the teeth that’s nearer to the tongue.
  • Lip bumper – This is a type of wire appliance that moves the lower front teeth forward and the lower molars back. This action creates room for crowded front teeth.
  • Lip incompetence – This is a condition when a patient is unable to naturally close the lips together when at rest. Often this is because the front teeth are protruding or the patient has an excessively lengthy face.
  • Malocclusion – This refers to a bad bite, when the teeth do not meet and fit together properly.
  • Mandible – This is another term for the lower jaw.
  • Maxilla – This is the upper jaw.
  • Mixed dentition – This is when children have a mix of primary (baby) and permanent teeth. This usually occurs from ages 6 to 12 years old.
  • Mouthguard – This is what athletes use to protect their mouth and teeth from injury when playing various types of sports (especially contact sports). Many orthodontic patients are required to wear mouthguards to protect their teeth and their orthodontic appliances.
  • Nightguard – This is similar to a mouthguard, but it is worn at night when the patient is sleeping. The nightguard minimizes the resulting wear in the teeth if the patient grinds their teeth when they’re sleeping.
  • Open bite – This is a type of malocclusion wherein the teeth do not make contact with each other. A posterior open bite has the back teeth not touching each other when the front teeth are closed together. An interior open bite is when the back teeth are closed together and the front teeth do not touch each other.
  • Orthodontics – This is a specialty field in dentistry, although it is formally known as “Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics”. It focuses on the diagnoses and treatment of malocclusions (bad bites”.
  • Orthodontist – This is a dentist that specializes in orthodontics. This dentist can help prevent, diagnose, and treat malocclusions and various facial irregularities. An orthodontist is required to finish a special residency training that usually lasts 3 years after dental school.
  • Orthopedic appliance – This is a removable type of functional appliance meant to guide the growth of the face and the jaws.
  • Panoramic radiograph – This is a type of X-ray in which a single film shows both jaws and all of the teeth.
  • Palatal expander – This is a device used to widen the upper jaw. It can be either fixed or removable.
  • Periodontal – This term refers to the supporting structures such as the hard and soft tissues around the teeth.
  • Plaque – This is the colorless sticky film of saliva, food particles, and bacteria that persistently forms in the mouth. When the plaque combines with sugars, it forms an acid that can harm the teeth and the gums, which is why dentists regularly warn their patients against sugary treats. Plaque has to be cleaned regularly through brushing and with regular dental appointments to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Posterior – Another term for “back”. It’s the opposite of anterior (front).
  • Preventive treatment – This is a type of orthodontic treatment used to prevent a bad bite or to reduce its severity.
  • Removable appliance – This is a type of orthodontic appliance that a patient can remove easily. A removable appliance is often used to move the teeth, align the jaws, or keep the teeth in their new positions.
  • Retainer – This appliance is used once the braces are removed. A removable retainer attaches to the teeth and holds them in place. However, most are removable though some retainers are actually fixed.
  • Rubber bands – These are the small elastic bands worn to move individual teeth or to align the jaws.
  • Safety strap – This keeps the facebow of the headgear from coming loose, which can lead to injury.
  • Serial extraction – This is the selective removable of certain teeth (which may be primary or permanent teeth) over a period of time. In general, this is done to make room for incoming permanent teeth.
  • Space maintainer – After a primary tooth has been lost prematurely (either due to tooth decay or injury), a fixed appliance called a space maintainer is put in to hold the space reserved for an incoming (unerrupted) permanent tooth.
  • Supernumerary teeth – This is when a patient has more than the usual number of teeth and this condition is genetic. Because there are more teeth than usual, the teeth often erupt abnormally or end up malformed.
  • Tongue crib – This is a fixed appliance put in to help a patient stop the habit of exerting unwanted force from the tongue on the teeth and supporting bone structure.
  • Tongue thrust – This is when the tongue pushes against the teeth when a patient swallows. Constant tongue thrusts can move the teeth and bone, and this can lead to an open bite.
  • Wax – This is applied on the archwires or brackets to prevent irritation of the lips and cheeks.
  • Wires – These are also called archwires, and they’re used to move the teeth to their desired positions. Stainless steel wire ligatures or elastic O-rings hold them in place in the brackets.