Glossary of Terms

Abscess – a collection of pus (dead and dying bacteria and defence cells) either within the pulp or in the tissues around the tooth. It often causes a swelling on the gum but if large enough, can cause a facial swelling. In the most severe cases, the swelling can affect breathing, swallowing and even eye sight – in these cases it is imperative treatment is provided immediately.

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Consent – giving permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

Core – a metal or non-metal extension of the filling used to retain a crown.

Crown – a type of dental restoration which covers the top of a tooth to protect the underlying filling and tooth structure. Crowns can also be placed on dental implants.

Endodontics – the prevention, diagnosis and management of diseases of the pulp and tissues around the root of a tooth.

Endodontic surgery – surgery involving the root of a tooth that in most cases has already had root canal treatment. It involves surgically lifting the gum and removing bone to access the problem area. An example is an apicectomy in which the tip of a root is removed when root canal treatment has either not been possible or has not been successful. Sometimes surgery is carried out to investigate the root for cracks or to try and work out why treatment has not been successful. Stitches are placed at the end of the procedure and are normally removed after 3 days.

Endodontist – a dentist who has undergone further postgraduate training after their basic dental degree and now specialises in managing diseases of the dental pulp and surrounding structures. They must be registered as a specialist (not just a general dentist) with the General Dental Council (the dental governing body) after their training is complete.

Gum recession – exposure of the root surface around the neck of the tooth. With age, a degree of recession can be normal but more significant recession may occur if there is gum disease (periodontal disease), after surgery or with an incorrect tooth brushing technique.

Post – a metal or non-metal extension of the filling used to retain a core.

Pulp – the soft-tissue in the hollow centre of a healthy tooth (the root canal system) consisting of nerve fibres, blood vessels and other cells. The pulp is exceedingly complex tissue with good healing potential as long as it is not too damaged. It is certainly much more than just nerve tissue and can react to stimuli such as hot, cold and bacteria. If the pulp tissue becomes too damaged it can die leaving the canals empty. This allows the bacteria to contaminate the root canal system and in time can lead to an abscess.

Root canal treatment – the process of cleaning, shaping and filling the root canal system if the pulp dies, gets irreversibly damaged or if it needs to be removed to provide space for a post.

Rubber dam – a sheet of latex or non-latex used to isolate the tooth being worked on. It must be used for root canal treatment but can be used for many other restorative and dental procedures. It prevents bacteria normally present in the mouth from entering the root canals whilst treatment is being carried out and retracts the soft tissues so the dentist and nurse can see more clearly. It also protects the airway if things are dropped in the mouth and makes the procedure more comfortable for the patient as they no longer have things like water, dental materials or suction in their mouth. It has been around since the 1860’s so is certainly not a new concept and makes treatment much easier for the dentist and nurse.

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