Glossary Of Common Teeth Whitening Terms And Definitions
Glossary of Common Teeth Whitening Terms and Definitions

Glossary of Common Teeth Whitening Terms and Definitions

A Brighter Smile can make for a Brighter World

Or so itís claimed, and it does seem to be true; with many people around the world worried about the state of their smile. Itís all too easy to dismiss this as ridiculous vanity by the cynical, because first impressions can and do make a difference, however fair or unfair that may be.

A smile can melt the heart, but maybe not if the teeth are covered with plaque!

So folks can be very determined to do something about this if they have a problem, and millions of dollars are spent every single day on products from toothpaste to laser whitening to do just that.

But it can get a mite confusing, so here is a glossary of many common terms used in the bright and hope filled world of teeth whitening:


These are ingredients in toothpastes which help to get rid of that unwanted plaque and tartar, and other surface staining. In some toothpastes abrasives may count for half of the ingredients. (See also Plaque and Tartar).

Active Ingredients

These are the constituent parts of a toothpaste that do something chemically to affect teeth and / or gums in a healthy and positive way; rather than just being present for other reasons such as improved taste, or a pleasing color.

ADA (American Dental Association)

Founded in 1859, this organization has near seventy percent of all dentists in the United States as members. Look for their Seal of Acceptance on teeth whitening products if you are a resident in the USA. Their website is:

Adhesive Dentistry

A fashionable term for the method of bonding composite resin or porcelain to teeth. (See Bonding, Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers).

Aesthetic Dentistry

See Cosmetic Dentistry.

Anterior Teeth

These are the six front teeth on both the upper and lower jaws.

Antibacterial Agents

Ingredients of toothpastes and other products which fight and kill the harmful bacteria in our mouths which can cause plaque and decay.


This is the collective name for all the teeth together on either the upper or lower jaw.

At-home Bleaching

These are products for the whitening of teeth that you use yourself in your home, for a short time period in the day or overnight for 1 - 2 weeks, depending on brand. They are either obtained from a drugstore or from a dental office (the latter being with stronger bleaching and better fitting trays, but more expensive).

Baking Soda

This ingredient in some toothpaste kills the bacteria which are the causes of plaque. (See Plaque).

BDHF (British Dental Health Foundation)

Those in the United Kingdom should check that all toothpastes and other whitening products they are considering the purchase of, are considered safe and useful by bearing this organizationís stamp of approval. Their website is:


Something occurring on both the left and the right sides (of the mouth in this case).


This is a chemical treatment to whiten teeth using a solution or gel containing bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide, (brand names like Day White and Zoom) or carbamide peroxide (products like Nite White and Opalescence). Can either be carried out at home or at dental offices.

Boil & Bite Trays

These are a type of moldable mouthpieces used for containing the bleaching agents in some do it yourself bleaching kits, like those bought in drugstores. They are so named because they need to be dunked into hot water to soften them before biting to create the two molds. (One upper and one lower).


A form of adhesive dental restoration for the changing of color and shape of a tooth. The surface of the tooth is etched, then particular adhesives are employed to stick, or bond, either white porcelain veneers; or a tooth colored resin which is then shaped, hardened off and polished. Bonding is also known as `adhesive dentistry.í (See Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers).


A vital element that makes for healthy teeth.


See Tartar.


See Crowns.

Carbamide Peroxide

A bleaching agent that is slower acting than hydrogen peroxide because it must first break down into the other before it begins to work. (See Bleaching).


Tooth cavities caused by bacterial decay that must be filled in before any whitening procedure begins. The word is vernacular for `carious lesions.í


Things that are bad for teeth and cause decay are described as being cariogenic, or having cariogenic properties.


This is a dentistís tool which cleans teeth through the use of very high frequency waves of ultrasound.


A special glue used by dentists for holding material in place on the teeth, like porcelain veneers for example. (See also Bonding).


The thin but tough layer that covers the roots of a tooth. (See Root).

Chairside Bleaching

See In-office Bleaching.

Composite Resin

A tooth material found making up one of the types of dental veneers used in bonding. Composite resin is made from plastic and either quartz glass or ceramic. (See also Bonding and Curing).


Anything pertaining to a crown (of a tooth in this case). (See Crown).

Cosmetic Contouring

This is the reshaping of natural teeth to make them straighter.

Cosmetic Dentistry

Various techniques applied to a patientís teeth for reasons of improving appearance (color and straightness) but not for medical reasons.

Cosmetic Laser Dentistry

See Laser Bleaching / Whitening.


1 That part of teeth which is visible above the gum line and covered with enamel. (See Enamel). 2 Teeth restorations made from porcelain. Sometimes also known as caps.


A process for hardening bonding cements using either a chemical or a light. (See Composite Resin).


This is the name of the pointed part of a tooth.


Two of the equivalent official qualifications available to dentists. The former stands for: Doctor of Dental Surgery, and the latter means: Doctor of Medical Dentistry. Whichever of these degrees your dentist has will depend on which dental school he or she attended.

Dental Floss

This is a thin thread that can be slipped between the teeth in your mouth to remove plaque and food particles. (See Plaque).

Dental Hygienist

A licensed professional that specializes in the cleaning of teeth and general health of the mouth. (See also RDH).

Dental Veneers

See Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers.

Dental Prophylaxis

A method of cleaning the crowns of teeth using scaling, and then polishing, to get rid of various stains.


This substance makes up the teeth immediately beneath the layers of enamel and cementum. (See also Cementum and Enamel).


The order and arrangement of teeth in their arches.


Like the brand name UltraEZ gel, these are substances that make teeth ache less after bleaching. Many whitening toothpastes and products themselves also have special ingredients in them for this purpose, like potassium nitrate for just one example.

Special desensitizing toothpastes like

Sensodyne and others also help to block microscopic holes in teeth which are the cause of some pain.


This is a term for a gap lying between two neighboring teeth.


A word that means the sides of a tooth.


The white, extremely tough and shiny layer that covers the dentin on the crown of a tooth. Enamel is the hardest material to be found in the human body. (See Crown).


This is the outside of a toothís crown. (See Crown).


These are the eight canine teeth (two each side of the front or `anterior teethí on both the upper and lower jaws).


Any tooth colored covering on the visible part of a tooth.


This stands for Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry.


These are a strong reason why many people choose the toothpaste they do; peppermint, spearmint and menthol are just three of these flavor enhancers which work alongside sweeteners to make the toothpaste more palatable. So important is this that may take up a considerable percentage of the overall product.


This chemical is an important weapon against tooth decay, but a too large an intake on forming teeth can sometimes contribute to later discoloration.


This is the correct word for the tissue that covers the jawbones, usually known as `gums.í

High Lipline

People who have this, reveal their gums above their upper teeth when they smile widely. (See also Low Lipline).

Home Whitening

See At-home Bleaching.


These toothpaste ingredients like sorbitol and others keep the paste wet and act to bind the liquids and solids together better.

Hydrogen Peroxide

A faster acting bleaching agent. (See Bleaching).


A condition of the teeth where pain is caused quite easily by actions that would not usually be troublesome.


This is a mold made of the teeth and the gums.

In-office Bleaching

Here, the whitening of your teeth can be carried out during one or more visits to your dentist, depending on levels of staining and other factors. Also known as `chair side bleaching,í


This word means between the teeth.


This is the space between the upper and lower dental arches.


Anywhere inside of the mouth.


A word for the entirely porcelain covering of a front tooth.


This word means the area in the mouth around the inside of the lips.

Laminate Veneers

See Porcelain Veneers.


A term sometimes used for the process of attaching either porcelain or composite resin veneers to teeth.

Laser Bleaching / Whitening

Also known as cosmetic laser dentistry, this is the latest and usually fastest (and most expensive) way to rid yourself of unwanted stains. Done in the dentistís office after the teeth are examined to see if they have no cavities; trademarked systems like Lasersmile gel is applied without trays, and then the Twilite Laser is shined onto a patientís teeth to activate the gel that is specifically formulated to work with the particular wavelength of the laser.

Laser whitening avoids the use of high heat to activate the bleaching agent, as in power bleaching, and so can be much better for those with sensitivity concerns.


The area around the tongue. Also, the surfaces of teeth that are facing the tongue.

Low Lipline

If you have a low lipline, then your widest smile will only just reveal the lower edges of your upper front teeth. (See also High Lipline).


These letters stand for: the Masters Academy of General Dentistry.


This is the scientific name for the lower jaw.


The scientific name for the upper jaw.


These are the twelve broad back teeth, three on each side of the upper and lower dental arches.

Non Vital Whitening

This can be used for teeth which have had a root canal procedure performed upon them, because such teeth often do not respond well to other whitening methods. The dentist will put a whitener into the tooth and seal it up with a temporary filling, and after a while the tooth will whiten up from inside to out. (See also Vital Whitening).


This term is used to mean how the teeth of the upper and lower jaws fit against one another when closed.

Oral Cavity

Basically, this is the mouth.

Oral Hygiene

Keeping everything clean and shipshape inside your mouth after meals will lessen staining from developing in the first place.


This is the correct name for all of the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth, and separates it from the nose.


A percentage measurement for ingredients of toothpastes and other products can be calculated and expressed in three different ways, these are:

%v/v (Percentage Volume for Volume)

This is what percentage the volume of a liquid ingredient takes up of the total volume of the solution.

%w/w (Percentage Weight for Weight)

This is the percentage of weight of a given soluble material in the overall weight of the solution.

%w/v (Percentage Weight for Volume)

This is the percentage of the weight of a solid ingredient when dissolved in the total volume of the solution.

Permanent Teeth

These are the thirty two teeth in an adult. They can also be referred to as the `secondary teeth.í


A nasty film of sticky, gungy stuff made up from a mixture of food particles, bacteria, and bacterial deposit. It sticks to your teeth due to low hygiene and can be the cause of staining or worse, like decay and disease. Old and hardened plaque is known as tartar, or sometimes as calculus.


This is a ceramic material that is fired in ovens called kilns at very high temperatures to form a tough and durable enamel substitute for covering problem teeth. (See Enamel).

Porcelain Veneers

Sometimes referred to as dental veneers and tooth veneers; these are thin layers of shiny white porcelain made at the precise size required in a laboratory, and then fixed to the front of teeth for aesthetic reasons, like improving color and shape. (See also Bonding).


These are the teeth towards the back of the mouth; whitening these is not necessary because they are not made visible during a smile.

Power Bleaching

This is a bleaching carried out by a dentist in their office using more concentrated chemicals for a faster whitening process. It is more expensive than take home bleaching kits, and also uses a high light and heat to activate the bleach.


This stands for parts per million and can be used instead of percentages to show how much of an ingredient is present in a product.


These allow for a longer shelf life in toothpastes and other products.


See Dental Prophylaxis.


This is all of the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue that exist inside each tooth. (See below).

Pulp Cavity

The inner space of the crown and the root where the pulp is contained in a tooth. (See Crown, Root and Pulp).


For ease of reference, dentists talk of quadrants in the mouth. There are four of these; two upper and two lower; each with right and left.


See X-Rays.


This stands for Registered Dental Hygienist, and is the degree for this type of professional. (See Dental Hygienist).


This is the structure made from dentin and covered with cementum below the crown (for the lower jaw, above of course on the upper jaw) that anchors every tooth to the upper or lower jawbone. (See also Cementum, Crown and Dentin).

Root Canal

This is the area of the pulp cavity inside the root. (See Pulp and Pulp Cavity).

Root Planing

This is a course of action taken to clean up any exposed root surface of tartar and bacterial deposits.

Secondary Teeth

See Permanent Teeth.


Clear fluid used to aid chewing in the mouth containing water, mucus and enzymes, but also bacteria.


A procedure used by a dentist or dental hygienist to remove plaque, tartar and other stains from teeth. This may be described as either subgingival scaling when done below the gum line or supragingival scaling when carried out above the gumline. (See also Plaque and Tartar).


To help with classifying the various colors of teeth, shade guides exist for the use of dentists.


These are products like Crest Whitestrips, they are stretchy and almost invisible strips which are impregnated with whitening ingredients. Worn on the teeth for a short while each day and then discarded. Professional Strips have a higher concentration of active ingredients.

Supernumerary Tooth

Some people have more than thirty two teeth like the rest of us, and if they do then this is what itís called.


Also referred to as detergents, foaming agents or simply as soap; these sodium compounds are important but foul tasting ingredients in toothpastes that have to be masked by flavorings and sweeteners. They help to break up and remove food and other stains.


These plastic nozzles are used to place the bleaching agent in the mouth trays.


The unwelcome yellowish brown material that sticks to teeth and causes stains, sometimes referred to as `calculus.í This is the hardened plaque that was not properly removed by either brushing or flossing.

Tartar Control

These toothpastes do not remove tartar, but are very effective in preventing more from forming. Also, the tartar that does manage to arrive on your teeth will only be able to attach itself to a much lesser degree, so that other chemicals can eliminate it easier.


These act to keep toothpaste at the right consistency. Two examples of thickeners commonly found are xanthan gum and gum arabic.

Tooth Veneers

See Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers.

Vital Whitening

A term used to describe traditional whitening methods like bleaching and the applying of dental veneers. (See also Non Vital Whitening).


These are usually taken of teeth before a dentist will allow a bleaching to be allowed, to check that the teeth involved do not have cavities. X-Rays can sometimes be referred to as `radiographs.í


Keep an eye open for this friend of the taste buds and the teeth. Itís a natural sweetener that doesnít cause tooth decay.

So there is a guide to help you along your way if you are considering having your teeth whitened or know someone else who is.

Just like with dieting; it can be good for our self-esteem as well as our health, and it is definitely important for most people to have nice teeth, but remember that we must not always judge a book by its cover.

After all, it may be true that movie stars and superstar singers have great teeth, but then again, so do used-car salesman and politicians!

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