Glossary of Dental Terms

Dentists and insurance companies use a lot of words to describe parts of the mouth, procedures and dental insurance plans – Your dentist and our customer service representatives can explain any term you don’t know, but in the meantime here are some you can learn about:


Wear on a tooth caused by brushing too hard, holding things in your teeth, and other actions

The ability to obtain needed medical care and often affected by the availability of insurance, the cost of the care, and the geographic location of providers.

Actuarial Value
A measure of the average value of benefits in a dental insurance plan calculated as the percentage of benefit costs an insurance plan expects to pay for a standard population, using standard assumptions and taking into account cost-sharing provisions.

Allowed Amount
Maximum amount on which payment is based for covered dental care services

A mixture of different metals such as mercury, silver, tin and copper that's used to fill cavities

A request for your dental insurer or plan to review a decision or a grievance

Balance Billing
The difference between the provider’s charge and the allowed amount

A metal ring put around a tooth with cement as part of orthodontic treatment

Benefit Package
Set of services that are covered by an insurance policy or dental plan and specify any cost sharing requirements for services, limits on particular services, and annual or lifetime spending limits.

A tooth that has two cusps, or pointed areas on top

An X-ray of the crowns of the upper and lower molars when biting down

A tooth-colored resin material applied to a tooth to change its shape or color; also describes how a filling or orthodontic bracket sticks to the tooth

An appliance that attaches an artificial tooth or teeth to the teeth next to it

An unconscious habit of grinding or clenching of the teeth that often happens when a person is sleeping or during the day

Of or near the inside surface of the cheeks or surfaces of the teeth or restorations directed toward the cheeks

Calculus (tartar)
A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to become inflamed if not scraped off when a dentist cleans your teeth

Areas of tooth decay

An area of a tooth that's damaged due to caries

The thin, hard tissue that covers the root of a tooth

A request for payment that you or your dental care provider submits to your dental insurer when you get items or services you think are covered.

A method of cost sharing in dental insurance plans in which the plan member is required to pay a defined percentage of their medical costs after the deductible has been met.

A tooth-colored material made of several types of substances that's used to repair teeth

A fixed dollar amount paid by an individual at the time of receiving a covered dental care service from a participating provider. The required fee varies by the service provided and by the dental plan.

A feature of health and dental plans where beneficiaries are required to pay a portion of the costs of their care. Examples of costs include co-payments, coinsurance and annual deductibles.

The top part of the tooth that's covered with enamel; also an artificial cover for a tooth to repair it or restore it to its normal shape and size after a root canal or other dental work

One of the pointed parts on the top of a tooth

A feature of health and dental plans in which consumers are responsible for covered care costs up to a specified dollar amount.

Dental floss
Thin strands of material used to clean between the teeth and around the gums at home

The substance underneath the enamel on the top of a tooth and under the cementum at the root

Dependent Coverage
Insurance coverage for family members of the policyholder, such as spouses, children, or partners

Dry socket
Pain and inflammation in a tooth socket after the tooth is removed

Electronic Health Record/Electronic Medical Records
Computerized records of a patient’s health or dental information including medical, demographic, and administrative data

Emergency Services
Evaluation of an emergency medical condition and treatment to keep the condition from getting worse

Employer-Sponsored Insurance
Insurance coverage provided to employees, and, in some cases, their spouses and children, through an employer

The hard, calcium-rich surface on the crown of a tooth

A specialist who treats problems of the tooth nerve (pulp) or infections in the bone associated with infected nerves using procedures such as root canal

Essential Health Benefits
A package of benefits set by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that insurers must offer under the Marketplaces.

Excluded Services
Dental care services that your insurance carrier or plan doesn’t pay for or cover.

The removal of all or part of a tooth

A traditional method of paying for medical services under which doctors and hospitals are paid for each service they provide. Bills are either paid by the patient, who then submits them to the insurance company, or are submitted by the provider to the patient’s insurance carrier for reimbursement.

Material used to repair a damaged area of a tooth; it can be made of metals, plastic or porcelain

The soft tissues around the teeth; also called gums

An early form of gum disease where the gums are inflamed and become red and swollen and bleed easily; usually caused by plaque buildup

Group Dental Insurance
Dental insurance that is offered to a group of people, such as employees of a company

Guarantee Issue/Renewal
Requires insurers to offer and renew coverage, without regard to health status, use of services, or pre-existing conditions

Health Insurance Marketplace
A purchasing arrangement through which insurers offer and smaller employers and individuals purchase health insurance

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
Through The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, individuals in many states who lose group health coverage after a loss of employment have access to coverage through high-risk pools, with no pre-existing condition exclusion periods. HIPAA also sets standards that address the security and privacy of personal health data.

Impacted tooth
A tooth that's blocked from coming up through the gums by another tooth, bone or soft tissue

A device put into the jaw bone to hold a prosthesis such as a crown or bridge

Individual Insurance Market
The market where individuals who do not have group (usually employer-based) coverage purchase private health insurance.

In-network Co-insurance
The percent you pay of the allowed amount for covered dental care services to providers who contract with your dental insurance or plan.

In-network Co-payment
A fixed amount you pay for covered dental care services to providers who contract with your dental insurance or plan.

Of or near the tongue

When the upper and lower teeth aren't lined up well in order to bite and chew properly

Mandatory Benefits
Certain benefits or services that state-licensed health insuring organizations are required to cover in their health insurance plans

The lower jaw

The upper jaw

Medical Underwriting
Process of determining whether or not to accept an applicant for health care coverage based on their medical history

Medically Necessary
Health care services or supplies needed to prevent, diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.

The large teeth near the back of the jaws that are used for grinding food

A removable device that a person wears over his/her teeth to protect them from damage during sports

The facilities, providers and suppliers your health insurer or plan has contracted with to provide health care services.

Night Guard
A removable device that a person wears over his/her teeth at night to protect them from damage due to bruxism

Non-preferred provider
A provider who doesn’t have a contract with your health insurer or plan to provide services to you

The contact between the upper and lower teeth in order to bite and chew

Open Enrollment Period
Period of time set up to allow you to choose from available plans, usually once a year

A type of dentist who works to correct the position of teeth with braces and other tools

Out-of-network Co-insurance
Percent you pay of the allowed amount for covered health care services to providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan

Out-of-network Co-payment
Fixed amount you pay for covered health care services from providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan

Out-of-Pocket Costs
Health care costs, such as deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance that are not covered by insurance

Out-of-Pocket Maximum
Yearly cap on the amount of money individuals are required to pay out-of-pocket for health care costs, excluding the premium cost

The hard and soft tissues that form the roof of the mouth

Pay for Performance
A health care payment system in which providers receive incentives for meeting or exceeding quality, and sometimes cost, benchmarks.

Pediatric dentist
A dentist who only treats children

Periodontal pocket
A deep area between a tooth and gum that's the result of gum disease

A dentist who specializes in treating the tissues that surround the teeth

Periodontitis (periodontal disease)
A severe infection of the gums that occurs when gingivitis gets worse; can cause the gums and bones that support the teeth to break down, teeth can then loosen and fall out

Physician Services
Health care services provided by a licensed medical physician

Plan Year
A 12-month period of benefits coverage under a group health plan

A sticky film of bacteria and other substances that coat the teeth every day. Brushing and flossing help remove plaque; if not removed regularly, plaque can lead to gum disease

A decision by your health insurer or plan that a health care service, treatment plan, prescription drug or durable medical equipment is medically necessary, sometimes called prior authorization, prior approval or precertification. Your health insurance or plan may require preauthorization for certain services before you receive them, except in an emergency. Preauthorization isn’t a promise your health insurance or plan will cover the cost.

Pre-existing Condition Exclusions
An illness or medical condition for which a person received a diagnosis or treatment within a specified period of time prior to becoming insured

Amount paid, often on a monthly basis, for health insurance

Activities to prevent illness such as routine check-ups, immunizations, patient counseling, and screenings

Preventive Care
Health care that emphasizes the early detection and treatment of diseases.

An artificial replacement of a tooth or teeth

A physician, health care professional or health care facility licensed, certified or accredited as required by state law

Provider Payment Rates
Total payment a provider, hospital, or community health center receives when they provide medical services to a patient

The soft tissue inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves

Qualified Health Plan
Under the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, an insurance plan that is certified by an Marketplace, provides essential health benefits, follows established limits on cost-sharing (like deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket maximum amounts), and meets other requirements.

Reconstructive Surgery
Surgery and follow-up treatment needed to correct or improve a part of the body because of birth defects, accidents, injuries or medical conditions.

Insurance for insurance companies and employers that self-insure their employees’ medical costs

A kind of treatment that repairs or replaces teeth

A removable device worn in the mouth to prevent teeth from moving out of position

The bottom part of the tooth that anchors it in the jaw and is covered by bone and the gums

Root canal
A treatment that removes the tooth nerve (pulp) and seals the space formerly occupied by the nerve with an inert material; a crown is recommended to cover the tooth to prevent it from breaking

Root planing
Cleaning of a tooth root to remove bacteria, calculus and diseased surfaces

A procedure that uses tools to remove plaque, tartar and stains from teeth

A plastic resin that can be put on the biting surfaces of back teeth to help prevent caries

Self-Insured Plan
A plan where the employer assumes direct financial responsibility for the costs of enrollees’ medical claims.

Small Group Market
Firms with 2-50 employees can purchase health insurance for their employees through the Marketplace, which is regulated by states.

Under the tongue

Below the lower jaw

Tartar (calculus)
A hard deposit of minerals coated with bacterial plaque that can build up on the teeth and cause gums to get inflamed

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
The joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
Pain, clicking and other symptoms that are caused by problems with the temporomandibular joint and the associated muscles

A thin, artificial cover for a tooth to correct its shape or color, made to look and feel like a real tooth; veneers can be made of porcelain, ceramic, composite or acrylic resin

Waiting Period (Job-based coverage)
The time that must pass before coverage can become effective for an employee or dependent, who is otherwise eligible for coverage under a job-based health plan.

Dry mouth caused by salivary glands that don't work properly or reduced flow of saliva from medications

An image of bones, teeth and restorations made with radiation