Glossary Of Teeth Whitening
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A Glossary of Teeth Whitening Terms and Definitions – Brighter Smiles For A Brighter World

It certainly seems like many people around the world are worried about the state of their smile. It’s all too easy to think that it's just ridiculous vanity to want a white smile, but first impressions can, and do, make a difference.

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

Today, many people are very determined to do something about whitening their teeth, and millions of dollars are spent every single day on products, from toothpaste to laser whitening.

But, finding the right tooth whitening method can be confusing, so here is a glossary of the many common terms used in the bright, and hope filled, world of teeth whitening:

  • Abrasives
    These are ingredients found in toothpaste which help to get rid of that unwanted plaque and tartar, and other surface staining. In some toothpaste, 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 almost seventy percent of all dentists in the United States registered as members. Look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance on teeth whitening products.

  • 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 found in toothpastes and other products which fight and kill the harmful bacteria in our mouths that can cause plaque and decay.

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

  • At-home Bleaching
    These are products for whitening teeth that you use at home, for a short time period in the day or overnight for 1 - 2 weeks, depending on the brand. You can purchase bleaching kits online, from a drugstore or from a dental office (the latter are made with stronger bleaching and better fitting trays, but they are more expensive).

  • Baking Soda
    This ingredient is found in some toothpastes to help kill the bacteria that cause plaque. (See Plaque).

  • BDHF (British Dental Health Foundation)
    Citizens of the United Kingdom should check that all toothpastes and other whitening products they purchase are safe by looking for the BDHF stamp of approval.

  • Bilateral
    Something occurring on both the left and the right side of the mouth.

  • Bleaching
    This is a chemical treatment to whiten teeth, using a solution or gel, containing bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide, (found in Day White and Zoom) or carbamide peroxide (found in Nite White and Opalescence). Bleaching can either be carried out at home or at a dental office.

  • Boil & Bite Trays
    These are a type of moldable mouthpiece 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).

  • Bonding
    A form of adhesive dental restoration used to change the 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.’ (See Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers).

  • Calcium
    A vital element that makes for healthy teeth.

  • Calculus
    See Tartar.

  • Caps
    See Crowns.

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

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

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

  • Cavitron
    This is a dentist’s tool that cleans teeth through the use of very high frequency ultrasonic waves.

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

  • Cementum
    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).

  • Coronal
    Anything pertaining to the crown on a tooth. (See Crown).

  • Cosmetic Contouring
    This describes the reshaping of natural teeth to make them straighter.

  • Cosmetic Dentistry
    Various techniques applied to a patient’s teeth for improving appearance (color and straightness), but not for medical reasons.

  • Cosmetic Laser Dentistry
    See Laser Bleaching/Whitening.

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

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

  • Cusp
    This refers to the pointed part of a tooth.

  • DDS or DMD
    Two of the equivalent official qualifications available to dentists. DDS stands for: Doctor of Dental Surgery, and DMD stands for: Doctor of Medical Dentistry. The degree your dentist has depends on the dental school he or she attended.

  • Dental Floss
    This is a thin thread that can be slipped between your teeth to remove plaque and food particles. (See Plaque).

  • Dental Hygienist
    A licensed professional that specializes cleaning teeth and general oral health. (See also RDH).

  • Dental Veneers
    See Composite Resin and Porcelain Veneers.

  • Dental Prophylaxis
    A method of cleaning crowns using scaling, and then polishing, to get rid of various stains.

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

  • Dentition
    The order and arrangement of teeth in the arches.

  • Desensitizing
    Like the brand name UltraEZ gel, these are substances that reduce tooth pain after bleaching. Many whitening toothpastes and products have special ingredients in them for this purpose, like potassium nitrate for example.


  • Special desensitizing toothpastes, like Sensodyne and others, also help to block microscopic holes in teeth that can cause pain.
  • Diastema
    This is a term for a gap lying between two neighboring teeth.

  • Distal
    A word used to describe the sides of a tooth.

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

  • Extracoronal
    This is the outside of a tooth’s crown. (See Crown).

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

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

  • FAGD
    This stands for Fellowship Academy of General Dentistry.

  • Flavorings
    Peppermint, spearmint and menthol are just three of the flavor enhancers that work alongside sweeteners to make toothpaste more palatable. Flavor is often so important to the consumer that it may make up a considerable percentage of the overall product.

  • Fluoride
    This chemical helps to fight against tooth decay, but using too large an amount on forming teeth can sometimes contribute to discoloration later on.

  • Gingiva
    This is the technical term for the tissue that covers the jawbones, usually known as the `gums.’

  • High Lip line
    People who have a high lip line, reveal the gums above their upper teeth when they smile. (See also Low Lip line).

  • Home Whitening
    See At-home Bleaching.

  • Humectants
    These toothpaste ingredients, like sorbitol and others, keep the toothpaste wet and act to bind the liquids and solids together.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide
    A fast acting bleaching agent. (See Bleaching).

  • Hypersensitivity
    A word used to describe a condition where pain is caused quite easily by actions that would not usually be troublesome.

  • Impression
    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 the level of staining and other factors. Also known as `chair side bleaching.’

  • Interproximal
    This word means "between the teeth".

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

  • Intraoral
    Anywhere inside of the mouth.

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

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

  • Laminate Veneers
    See Porcelain Veneers.

  • Laminating
    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. Performed in the dentist’s office, after the teeth are examined to see that they have no cavities, trademarked systems like Lasersmile gel is applied without trays, and then the Twilite Laser is applied to the patient’s teeth. The laser activates the gel, which 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, like in power bleaching, and so it can be much better for those people with sensitive teeth.
  • Lingual
    The area around the tongue. Also, the surfaces of teeth that are facing the tongue.

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

  • MAGD
    These letters stand for the Masters Academy of General Dentistry.

  • Mandible
    This is the scientific name for the lower jaw.

  • Maxilla
    The scientific name for the upper jaw.

  • Molars
    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 that have had a root canal procedure performed on them, because root canaled 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 the inside out. (See also Vital Whitening).

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

  • Oral Cavity
    Basically, this is the mouth.

  • Oral Hygiene
    Keeping everything clean and shipshape inside your mouth after meals will reduce stains from developing in the first place.

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

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

    • Percentage Volume for Volume (%v/v)
      This is the volume percentage of a liquid ingredient in the total volume of the solution.
      Percentage Weight for Weight (%w/w)
      This is the weight percentage of a given soluble material in the overall weight of the solution.
      Percentage Weight for Volume (%w/v)
      This is the weight percentage 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.’

  • Plaque
    A nasty film of sticky, grungy stuff made 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, decay and disease. Old and hardened plaque is known as tartar, or sometimes, as calculus.

  • Porcelain
    This is a ceramic material which is fired in an oven, called a kiln, at very high temperatures in order 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, porcelain veneers are thin layers of shiny white porcelain made to size in a laboratory, and then fixed to the front of a tooth for aesthetic reasons, such as improving color and shape. (See also Bonding).

  • Posterior
    These are the teeth towards the back of the mouth; whitening these is not necessary because they are not usually visible when a person smiles.

  • Power Bleaching
    This is a bleaching procedure carried out by a dentist, using more concentrated chemicals for a faster whitening process. It is more expensive than take-home bleaching kits, and requires the use of a high light and heat to activate the bleach.

  • PPM
    PPM stands for "parts per million" and can be used instead of percentages to show the amount of an ingredient in a product.

  • Preservatives
    Added preservatives allow for a longer shelf life, in toothpastes and other products.

  • Prophylaxis
    See Dental Prophylaxis.

  • Pulp
    Pulp includes all of the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues that exist inside each tooth. (See below).

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

  • Quadrants
    For ease of reference, dentists refer to quadrants in the mouth. There are four quadrants, two upper and two lower, each with a right and a left.

  • Radiographs
    See X-Rays.

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

  • Root
    This is the structure made from dentin and covered with cementum below the crown (for the lower jaw, and above 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.

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

  • Scaling
    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 gum line. (See also Plaque and Tartar).

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

  • Strips
    These are products like Crest Whitestrips. They are stretchy and almost invisible strips that contain whitening ingredients. Whitening strips are worn on the teeth for a short period of time each day and then discarded. Professional Strips have a higher concentration of active ingredients.

  • Supernumerary Tooth
    Some people have more than thirty two teeth and these are called supernumerary teeth.

  • Surfactants
    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.

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

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

  • Tartar Control
    Tartar control toothpastes do not remove tartar, but are very effective in preventing more tartar from forming. Also, by using a tartar control toothpast, the tartar that does manage to stick to your teeth will only be able to attach itself to a much lesser degree, allowing other chemicals to eliminate it easier.

  • Thickeners
    These act to keep toothpaste at the right consistency. Two examples of thickeners commonly found in toothpaste 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).

  • X-Rays
    A tooth x-ray is usually taken before a dentist will allow bleaching, in order to ensure that the teeth involved do not have cavities. X-Rays can sometimes be referred to as `radiographs.’

  • Xylitol
    Keep an eye open for this friend of the taste buds and the teeth. It’s a natural sweetener that doesn’t cause tooth decay.

So, there is a guide to help you along your way if you are considering having your teeth whitened. It is definitely important to have healthy teeth, but remember that we must not always judge the book by its cover.

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

About The Author

Matt Jacks is an experienced freelance writer for hire providing tips and advice for consumers about teeth whitening products, understanding professional cosmetic dentistry options, and hair loss treatment & restoration. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This "Glossary of Teeth Whitening Terms & Definitions" reprinted with permission.

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