Orthodontic Glossary

Glossary - Orthodontics Daly City, CA


Any device, attached to the teeth or removable, designed to move the teeth, change the position of the jaw, or hold the teeth in their finished positions after braces are removed.

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Upper or lower jaw.

The metal wire that is attached to the brackets and used to move the teeth.


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The metal ring that is cemented to a tooth for strength and anchorage.


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A word commonly used to describe a fixed orthodontic appliance, usually comprised of brackets, bands and wires.  

Diagram of Braces
The diagram below illustrates and names each part of a typical set of braces.


A. Ligature
The archwire is held to each bracket with a ligature, which can be either a tiny elastic or a twisted wire.

B. Archwire
The archwire is tied to all of the brackets and creates force to move teeth into proper alignment.

C. Brackets
Brackets are connected to the bands, or directly bonded on the teeth, and hold the archwire in place.

D. Metal Band
The band is the cemented ring of metal which wraps around the tooth.

E. Bracket Hooks
The bracket or band extensions that are used for the attachment of rubber bands.

The small metal, ceramic, or plastic attachment bonded to each tooth with a tooth-colored adhesive.  The bracket has a slot that the archwire fits into.


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Brushing the teeth is part of an individual’s daily home dental care.  Patients with braces should follow the orthodontist’s instruction on how often to brush.

Grinding the teeth, usually during sleeping.  Bruxism can cause abnormal tooth wear and may lead to pain in the jaw joints.

The cheek side of the back teeth in both arches or jaws.

Buccal Tube
A small metal part of the bracket welded to the cheek side of the molar band.  The tube may hold an archwire, lip bumper, headgear facebow or other appliances an orthodontist may use to move the teeth. 


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Cephalometric Radiograph
A lateral (side view) x-ray of the head.


A cephalometric radiograph.

A stretchable series of elastic o-rings connected together and placed around each bracket to hold the archwire in place and move the teeth.


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Class I Malocclusion
A malocclusion with the proper molar relationship and teeth that are crowded together, spaced apart, an overbite, an openbite, a posterior crossbite or an anterior crossbite. 

Class II Malocclusion
A malocclusion with the upper front teeth protruding or due to the lower teeth and/or jaw positioned back relative to the upper teeth and/or jaw.  


A Class II malocclusion.

Class III Malocclusion
A malocclusion with the lower front teeth protruding or due to the lower teeth and/or jaw positioned ahead relative to the upper teeth and/or jaw. 


A Class III malocclusion.

Closed Bite/Deep Bite
Also known as deep overbite, this occurs when the upper front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth an excessive amount.


Closed or deep bite.

Comprehensive Treatment
Complete orthodontic treatment performed to correct a malocclusion.

Congenitally Missing Teeth
A genetic occurrence in which the expected number of permanent teeth do not develop.

Upper posterior (back) teeth are in crossbite if they erupt and function inside or outside of the arch in the lower posterior teeth.  Lower anterior (front) teeth are I crossbite if they erupt and function in front of the upper anterior teeth.  A crossbite can be individual teeth or groups of teeth.


A  posterior crossbite.

DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) are equivalent degrees, according to The American Dental Association.  All orthodontists educated in the U.S. or Canada will have either a DDS or DMD after their names.  Orthodontists must also complete an additional two to three years of specialty education in an American Dental Association accredited orthodontic residency program after dental school to become orthodontists.

Diagnostic Records
The material and information that the orthodontist needs to properly diagnose and plan a patient’s treatment.  Diagnostic records may include a thorough patient health history, a visual examination of the teeth and supporting structures, plaster models of the teeth, a wax bite registration, extraoral and intraoral photographs, a panoramic and a cephalometric radiograph.

Ectopic Eruption
Term used to describe a tooth or teeth that erupt in an abnormal position.

The process by which teeth enter into the mouth.

The removal of a tooth.

Rubber bands.  During certain stages of treatment, small elastics or rubber bands are worn to provide individual tooth movement or jaw alignment.


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A wire appliance used with a nightbrace, or headgear.  Primarily used to move the upper first molars back, creating room for crowded or protrusive front teeth.  The facebow has an internal wire bow and an external wire bow.  The internal bow attaches to the buccal tube on the upper molar bands inside the mouth and the outer bow attaches to the breakaway safety strap of the nightbrace.

A surgical procedure designed to disrupt the arrangement of fibers from the gums that attach around the tooth, usually performed to reduce the potential for relapse or post-orthodontic treatment tooth movement.

Fixed Appliances
An orthodontic appliance that is bonded or cemented to the teeth and cannot be or should not be removed by the patient.

The use of specialized dental thread to clean between teeth.  An important part of daily home dental care.  Flossing removes plaque and food debris from between the teeth, brackets and wires.  Flossing keeps teeth and gums clean and healthy during orthodontic treatment.

The surgical removal or repositioning of the frenum, the lip and/or tongue attachment located between the upper and lower front teeth.  A large frenum attachment can cause spacing between top front teeth or cause the tongue to be tied.

Functional Appliances
Appliances that utilize and/or alter muscle action produced during normal oral function to produce forces that help to move teeth and align the jaws.   They are also known as orthopedic appliances with names such as orthopedic corrector, activator, bionator, Frankel, Herbst or twin block appliances.

Soft tissue around the teeth, also known as the gums.

Gummy Smile
Showing an excessive amount of gingival (gum) tissue above the front teeth when smiling.

An appliance worn outside of the mouth to provide a force on teeth to aid in growth modification and tooth movement.

Herbst Appliance
This appliance is used to move the lower jaw forward (and upper teeth back).  It can be fixed or removable.  When it is fixed, it is cemented to teeth in one or both arches using stainless steel crowns.  An expansion screw may be used simultaneously to widen the upper jaw.


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A tooth that does not erupt into the mouth or only erupts partially is considered impacted.

Interceptive Treatment
Orthodontic treatment performed to intercept a developing problem.  Usually performed on younger patients who have a mixture of primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth.

Interproximal Reduction
Removal of a small amount of enamel from between the teeth to reduce their width.  Also known as reproximation, slenderizing, stripping, enamel reduction or selective reduction.  This is accomplished most often utilizing diamond impregnated polishing strips and wheels.

The surface of the teeth in both arches that faces the lips.

Ligating Modules
A small elastic o-ring, shaped like a donut, used to hold the archwire in the bracket.


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The tongue side of the teeth in both arches.

Lip Bumper
A wire appliance used to move the lower molars back and the lower front teeth forward, creating room for crowded front teeth.  The lip bumper is an internal wire bow that attaches to the buccal tubes on the cheek side of the lower molar bands inside the mouth.  The front portion of the bow has an acrylic pad or bumper that rests against the inside of the lower lip.  The lower lip muscles apply pressure to the bumper creating a force that moves the molars back.


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Lip Incompetence
The inability to close the lips together at rest, usually due to protrusive front teeth or excessively long faces.

The term used in orthodontics to describe teeth that do not fit together properly.  From Latin, the term means “bad bite.”

Lower jaw.

Upper jaw.

Mixed Dentition
The dental developmental stage in children (approximately ages 6-12) when they have a mix of primary (baby) and permanent teeth.

A removable device used to reduce the change of injury to the teeth and mouth caused by sporting activities.  The use of a mouthguard is especially important for orthodontic patients.


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A removable appliance usually worn at night to help an individual minimize the damage or wear while  clenching or grinding teeth.

Open Bite
A malocclusion in which teeth do not make contact with each other.   With an anterior open bite, the front teeth do not touch when the back teeth are closed together.  With a posterior open bite, the back teeth do not touch when the front teeth are closed together.


An example of an anterior open bite.

The specialty area of dentistry concerned with the diagnosis, supervision, guidance and correction of malocclusions.  The formal name of the is Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

A specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities.  Orthodontists are required to complete college requirements, graduate from an accredited dental school and successfully complete a minimum of two academic years of full-time, university-based study at an accredited orthodontic residency program.  Only those who have completed this education may call themselves “orthodontists.”  Orthodontists limit their practice to orthodontic treatment only unless they have training in another dental specialty.  Only residency-certified orthodontists may be members of the American Association of Orthodontists.

Orthopedic Appliance
An appliance designed to alter the growth or change the position of the jaws. 


The linear distance between the upper and lower incisor as measured in the horizontal plane.  Often times this mistakenly referred to as a patient having an overbite.                                                 

 Panoramic Radiograph
An x-ray that shows all the teeth and both jaws on one film.


A panoramic radiograph (x-ray).

Palatal Expander
A fixed or removable device used to make the upper jaw wider.


An example of a palatal expander.

Refers to the hard and soft tissue, or supporting structures, around the teeth.

Plaque is a colorless, sticky film of bacteria, food particles and saliva that constantly forms in the mouth.  Plaque combines with sugars to form an acid that endangers teeth and gums.  Plaque causes tooth decay and gum disease.


Preventive Treatment
Orthodontic treatment to prevent or reduce the severity of a developing malocclusion (bad bite).

Removable Appliance
An orthodontic appliance that can be removed from the mouth by the patient.  Removable appliances are used to move teeth, align jaws and to keep teeth in their new positions when the braces are removed (retainers).

A fixed or removable appliance worn after the braces are removed.  A retainer attaches to your upper and/or lower teeth and holds them in their finished positions. 


This patient is wearing a removable retainer.

Rubber Bands
During certain stages of treatment, small elastics or rubber bands are worn to provide tooth movement to aid in tooth alignment and positioning.


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Safety Strap
The safety strap prevents the facebow of the headgear from coming loose and causing injury.


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An elastic o-ring or small wire loop placed between the teeth to create space for placement of bands.  Separators are usually placed between the teeth at least a week before bands are scheduled to be cemented to the teeth.


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Serial Extraction
Selective or guided removal of certain primary (baby) teeth and/or permanent teeth over a period of time to create room for permanent teeth.

Space Maintainer
An appliance used to hold space for an unerupted permanent tooth after a primary (baby) tooth has been lost prematurely.

Supernumerary Teeth
A genetic occurrence in which there are more teeth than the usual number.  These teeth can be malformed or erupt in abnormally.

Tongue Crib
An appliance used to help a patient stop habits or undesirable tongue forces exerted on the teeth and bone that supports the teeth.

Tongue Thrust
An individual’s tongue pushes against the teeth when swallowing.  Forces generated by the tongue can move the teeth and bone and may lead to an anterior or posterior open bite as well as the potential to increase a patient's overjet.

Wax is placed on the brackets or archwires to prevent them from irritating the lips or cheeks. 


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Also known as archwires, they are held in the brackets using small elastic o-rings, stainless steel wire ligatures or self-ligating door.  Wires are used to move the teeth.


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©2006 American Association of Orthodontists

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