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Orthodontic Terminology

We’ve put together a guide to common orthodontic terms to help you on your upcoming visit.

Complete Glossary of Orthodontic Terms

Applying braces is one of many treatments for an open bite, and not all patients will benefit from the same treatments. Preventing bad oral habits in children can help to lessen the severity of an open bite. When discussing braces, your orthodontist will very likely use some terms that are common to them but not so common to you. These are some of the terms they may use when referring to orthodontic problems that braces may be able to correct:

What to expect when getting braces


An evaluation of your progress when your wires may be changes to keep your treatment on track and moving




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.

Article: Orthodontic Appliances


Upper or lower jaw.


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


Bands are metal bands that are sometimes placed on the back molars and are used to anchor other orthodontic appliances to.


The process of cementing orthodontic bands to your teeth.


The process of attaching brackets to your teeth using a special safe adhesive.


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


Brackets are the small metal or ceramic modules attached to each tooth. They serve as guides to move the teeth and hold the archwire in place. The brackets used in orthodontics today bond directly to the teeth with a tooth-colored bonding adhesive. They are much smaller and lighter than ever.


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

Article: Brushing and Flossing with Braces


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.

Cephalometric Radiograph

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


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

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.

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.

Closed Bite / Deep Bite

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

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.


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 have an additional two to three years of specialty education in an accredited orthodontic residency program after dental school to become orthodontists.


The removal of cemented orthodontic brackets.

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.


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 sever fibers of attachment 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.

Article: Orthodontic Appliances

Fixed Retainer

With permanent retainers, we can greatly enhance the stability of that beautiful smile and perfect bite. These “invisible” retainers are bonded or glues on the back side of the front teeth. There is virtually no discomfort associated with eating and speaking.

Article: Retainers


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 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.


The spring like appliance creates an upward and backward force on the upper molars similar to a headgear, while at the same time pushing the lower teeth and jaw forward. Typically, the Forsus Springs are worn for 6 to 8 months, with adjustments every 6 8 weeks.

Functional Appliances

Appliances that utilize the muscle action produced when speaking, eating and swallowing to produce force to move the 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.


The first step in making a model of your teeth. You bite into a container filled with a rubber type material. That material hardens to produce a mold of your teeth.


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 that have a mixture of primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth.


Invisalign is a technology developed using computer scanners and virtual reality to move teeth gradually using the construction of clear overlay retainer appliances. Invisalign can only be used in minor cases. More difficult cases require braces.

Learn more about Invisalign here.

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.


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.


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.

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 protect the teeth and mouth from injury caused by sporting activities. The use of a mouthguard is especially important for orthodontic patients.


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

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.


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

A removable functional appliance designed to guide the growth of the jaws and face.

Palatal Expander

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

Panoramic Radiograph

An x-ray taken by a machine that rotates around your head to give your orthodontist a picture of your teeth, jaws and other important information.


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

Phase 1 Treatment

Phase 1 treatment is oftentimes necessary for younger patients to establish the proper “foundation” for future dental and facial development as they become adolescents and permanent dentition erupts. Narrow upper and lower jaws or situations where the back teeth are in a crossbite situation are typical.

Phase 2 Treatment

The use of braces and or orthodontic appliances when all the adult teeth have erupted.


Facial and intraoral photographs will be taken throughout treatment.


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).


These records, which include cephalometric and panoramic x-rays, digital photos and study models, help your orthodontist determine what treatment needs to be done.

Removable Retainers (Appliance)

An appliance that the orthodontist gives you to wear after your braces are removed. The retainer attaches to your upper and or lower teeth and holds them in the correct position while the bone around your teeth adjust to the new positions of your teeth. At first, you wear the retainer 24 hours a day, and then only at night.


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

Rubber Bands

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

Safety Strap

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


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 a week before bands are scheduled to be cemented to the teeth.

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

A fixed appliance used to hold space for an unerupted permanent tooth after a primary (baby) tooth has been lost prematurely, due to accident or decay.

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

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

Tongue Thrust

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


A clear wax used to prevent your braces for irritating your lips when your braces are first put on, or at anytime irritation occurs.

Wax Bite

A procedure to measure how well your teeth come together. You bite a sheet of wax and leave bitemarks in the wax. This helps the orthodontist relate the upper and lower models of your teeth together.


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