Common Orthodontic Terms

Medical language can be complicated and confusing, but at Kevin Cook Orthodontics we like to make things as simple as possible. We have assembled a list of common dental and orthodontic terms to help you better understand your treatment. Use this dictionary as a reference guide as you browse our website. Learn how orthodontics can give you that perfect smile.


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Orthodontic Dictionary

Learn the Components of Braces


Anterior TeethThe upper and lower six front teeth on each arch.
ApplianceAnything your orthodontist attaches to your teeth that moves your teeth or changes the shape and/or position of your jaw.
ArchThe entire upper or lower jaw.
ArchwireThe metal wire that connects orthodontic brackets. This wire guides the teeth into their new alignment.
BandsMetal bands (rings) that are generally cemented around the back teeth.
BondThe seal created by orthodontic cement that holds your appliances in place.
BracesFixed orthodontic appliances designed to align teeth.
BracketThe tiny metal, ceramic or clear button that is affixed to each individual tooth on the arch.
BuccalThe outer (cheek) side of posterior teeth in the lower and upper arches.
Cephalometic X-rayAn x-ray of your head that shows the relative positions and growth of the face, jaws, and teeth.
ChainElastics connected together and placed around the brackets to stabilize the archwire and gently close spaces.
Class I MalocclusionMolars are correctly aligned, but there is an anterior/posterior crossbite, an openbite or overcrowding on the arches.
Class II MalocclusionAlso known as an overbite. The upper front teeth are positioned further forward than the lower teeth.
Class III MalocclusionAlso known as an underbite. The lower front teeth are positioned further forward than the upper front teeth.
Closed BiteThe upper front teeth completely overlap the bottom teeth causing a deep overbite.
Coil SpringA spring that fits between your brackets and over your archwire to open space between your teeth.
CrossbiteA malocclusion in which the upper back teeth bite inside or outside the lower back teeth, or the lower front teeth bite in front of the upper front teeth.
De-bandingThe removal of orthodontic bands from the teeth.
De-bondingThe removal of affixed orthodontic brackets from the teeth.
Dental RecontouringAlso called odontoplasty; a simple form of cosmetic surgery to reshape the contours of the teeth and make them more even.
Diagnostic RecordsRecords used to assess, plan and implement treatments. These records usually include medical and dental history, radiographs, panoramic radiographs, bite molds and intraoral/extraoral photographs.
Digital RadiographDigital x-rays of the teeth which can be viewed, stored and transmitted via computer.
ElasticA small rubber band that is hooked between different points on your appliance/braces to provide pressure to move your teeth and jaws to their new position to align your bite.
Elastic TieThe rubber band that fits around your bracket to hold the archwire in place. These come in a variety of colors.
Fixed Orthodontic AppliancesOrthodontic appliances which are affixed to the teeth by the orthodontist and cannot be removed by the patient.
Functional AppliancesOrthodontic appliances that use the muscle movement created by swallowing, eating and speaking to gently move and align the teeth and jaws.
GingivaThe gums and soft tissue around the teeth.
HeadgearA removable appliance comprised of a brace and external archwire. This device modifies growth and promotes tooth movement.
ImpressionsThe process of making a model of your teeth by biting into a soft material that hardens into a mold of your teeth. Your orthodontist will use these impressions to prepare your treatment plan.
Interceptive TreatmentTreatment performed on children who have a mixture of adult and baby teeth. Early treatment can help reduce the need for major orthodontic treatment in the future.
Invisalign®An alternative to traditional braces, Invisalign® straightens your teeth with a series of clear, removable, custom-molded aligners.
Ligating ModulesAn elastic donut-shaped ring which helps secure the archwire to the bracket.
LigationSecuring the archwire to the brackets.
Lingual SideThe side of the teeth (in both arches) that is closest to the tongue.
Lower ExpanderA device that makes your lower jaw/bone that teeth sit on wider.
MalocclusionLiterally means “bad bite” in Latin, and refers to teeth that do not fit together correctly.
MandibleThe lower jaw.
MaxillaThe upper jaw.
MouthguardA removable plastic or rubber device that protects teeth and braces from sporting injuries.
Odontoplasty (Dental Recontouring)A simple form of cosmetic surgery to reshape the contours of the teeth and make them more even.
Open BiteUpper and lower teeth fail to make contact with each other. This malocclusion is generally classified as anterior or posterior.
OrthodonticsThe unique branch of dentistry concerned with diagnosing, preventing and correcting malocclusions and jaw irregularities.
OrthodontistA dental specialist who prevents, diagnoses and treats jaw irregularities and malocclusions. Orthodontists must complete two or three additional years of college after dental school and complete a residency program.
Palatal ExpanderA device that makes your upper jaw wider.
Panoramic X-rayAn x-ray that rotates around your head to take pictures of your teeth, jaw and other facial areas.
PlaqueThe sticky film of saliva, food particles and bacteria that contributes to gum disease and tooth decay.
Posterior TeethBack teeth.
Removable ApplianceAn orthodontic brace or device that can be removed at will by the patient. It must be worn for the designated amount of time each day to be effective.
RetainerAn appliance that is worn after your braces are removed, the retainer attaches to your upper and/or lower teeth to hold them in place. Some retainers are removable and others are bonded to the tongue-side of several teeth.
Separator (or Spacer)A small rubber ring that creates space between your teeth (usually molars) before the bands are fitted and attached.
Space MaintainerA fixed appliance used to hold space for permanent (adult) tooth. This is usually used when a baby tooth has been lost earlier than anticipated.
WaxOrthodontic relief wax is a home care remedy used to alleviate irritations caused by braces.
WireThe metal wire that acts as a track to guide your teeth along as they move. It is attached to the brackets to gently move the teeth into proper alignment. It is changed periodically throughout treatment as your teeth move to their new positions.

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