Patient Education

Our team of dental specialists and staff strive to improve the overall health of our patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing and treating conditions associated with your teeth and gums. Please use our dental library to learn more about dental problems and treatments available. If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment click here or call us at 540-343-5521.

All the doctors at Valley Family Dentistry are members of the American Dental Association which is a national, not-for-profit, member-run organization that works to advance the dental profession on a national, state and local level. Their public website, MouthHealthy, is also a great resource for dental information.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 


Amalgam– Material made from mercury and other alloy mixtures used to restore a drilled portion of a tooth. The American Dental Association, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization all agree based on scientific evidence that amalgam is a safe and effective cavity-filling material. The mercury in amalgam, when combined with other metals, forms a safe and stable material. The mercury used in dental fillings is a different form of mercury (methylmercury) that is found in water and can build up in fish and lead to health problems.

Anesthesia– Medications used to relieve pain.

Anterior teeth– Front teeth, also called incisors and cuspids (canines).

Arch– The upper or lower jaw.


Baby bottle tooth decay – Caused by sugary substances in breast milk and juices, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby’s mouth; do not put your child to bed with a bottle.

Bicuspids -A premolar tooth; tooth with two cusps, which are pointed or rounded eminences on or near the masticating surface of a tooth.

Bitewings – X-rays that help a dentist diagnose cavities.

Bonding – Application of tooth-colored resin materials to the surface of the teeth.

Bridge – A prosthetic replacement of one or more missing teeth cemented or otherwise attached to the abutment teeth or implant replacements.

Bruxism – Teeth grinding.


Calculus – A hard deposit of mineralized substance adhering to crowns and/or roots of teeth or prosthetic devices.

Canal – The narrow chamber inside the tooth’s root.

Canines – Also called cuspids.

Canker sore – Sore that occurs on the delicate tissues inside your mouth. A canker sore is usually light-colored at its base and can have a red exterior border.

Caries – A commonly used term for tooth decay, or cavities.

Cold sore – Usually occurs on the outside of the mouth, usually on or near the nose or lips. A cold sore is contagious because it is caused by the herpes simplex virus, and it is usually painful and filled with fluid.

Composite filling – Tooth colored restorations that give your teeth a cosmetic, natural appearance; also known as resin fillings.

Composite resin – A tooth colored resin combined with silica or porcelain and used as a restoration material.

Contouring – The process of reshaping teeth.

Cosmetic Dentistry– Dental procedures performed to correct misshaped, discolored, chipped or missing teeth. Cosmetic procedures include: cosmetic fillings, whitening/bleaching, veneers, bonding, re-contouring, crowns, crown lengthening, bridges, specialty dentures, implants, modification of excessive or uneven gums, soft and hard tissue grafts to augment your gums or boney ridge, implants.

Crown – Crowns are synthetic caps, usually made of a material like porcelain, placed on the top of a tooth. They are typically used to restore a tooth’s function and appearance following a restorative procedure such as a root canal. When decay in a tooth has become so advanced that large portions of the tooth must be removed, crowns are often used to restore the tooth. Crowns are also used to attach bridges, cover implants, prevent a cracked tooth from becoming worse, or if an existing filling is in jeopardy of becoming loose or dislocated. Crowns also serve an aesthetic use, and are applied when a discolored or stained tooth needs to be restored to its natural appearance. Crowns are sometimes confused with veneers, but they are quite different. Veneers are typically applied only to relatively small areas.

Cusp – The pointed parts on top of the back teeth’s chewing surface.

Cuspids – Front teeth that typically have a protruding edge


Dentin – The tooth layer underneath the enamel.

Denture – A removable set of teeth.

Dental Emergencies– If your tooth has been knocked out or displaced from its normal position, it is important to see your dentist immediately. Please see “Trauma”for instructions for a knocked out permanent tooth or baby tooth. Please see “Toothache” for information about other dental emergencies.


Endodontics – A form of dentistry that addresses problems affecting the tooth’s root or nerve.

Extraction– To remove, or pull, a tooth. There are several reasons why a tooth may need to be extracted including: large cavity making it unable to be fixed, infection, loss of boney support and has become very loose, create room for patient in braces, or malpositioned making it hard to restore other teeth around it.


Fluoride – A naturally-occurring mineral that helps prevent cavities in children and adults by making the outer surface of your teeth, enamel, more resistant to the acid certain foods, drinks and cavity-causing bacteria create

Fluorosis – A harmless over-exposure to fluoride and resulting sometimes in tooth discoloration.


Gingiva – Another word for gum tissue.

Gingivitis – A minor disease of the gums caused by plaque.

Gum disease – An infection of the gum tissues. Also called periodontal disease.


Impacted teeth – A condition in which a tooth fails to erupt or only partially erupts.

Implant – A synthetic structure, usually made from a biocompatible metal or ceramic, that is placed and anchored in jawbone in the area of the tooth normally occupied by the root. It acts as a foundation for an artificial tooth, fixed bridge and can be used to attach dentures. Not everyone is a candidate for a dental implant, however. For a successful implant to take hold, a candidate must have proper density and amount of bone and strong immune system. Although dental implants cannot get decay, they still require diligent oral hygiene to keep surrounding tissues healthy to ensure they lost a long time. Surgery is necessary to prepare the area for an implant and place the implant in the mouth. Following the procedure, a period of time is required for the implant to take hold and for bone tissue to build up and anchor the device. In some cases, metal posts are inserted into the implant during a follow-up procedure to connect the tooth.

Incisor – Front teeth with cutting edges; located in the center or on the sides near the front.

Inlay – An artificial filling made of various materials, including porcelain, resin, or gold.

Invisalign® braces– Invisible, removable, and comfortable aligners that straighten your teeth without traditional metal wires and brackets. Invisalign® uses a series of clear aligners that are worn for about 2 weeks at a time, removed only to eat, drink, brush and floss. Each new aligner in the series will cause you teeth to move little by little, week by week. You will visit your dentist every 6 weeks to ensure your treatment is progressing as planned. Total treatment time averages 9-15 months with average number of aligners during treatment being 18-30, but both will vary from case to case.


Laminate veneer – A shell that is bonded to the enamel of a front tooth. The shell is usually thin and made from porcelain resin.


Malocclusion – Bad bite relationship.

Mandible – The lower jaw.

Maxilla – The upper jaw.

Molar – Usually the largest teeth, near the rear of the mouth. Molars have large chewing surfaces.


Neuromuscular Dentistry – Addresses more than the aches and pains felt in and around the neck and head that are associated with your teeth and jaw.


Occlusal Guard– A custom appliance your dentist can make that helps alleviate pain and tooth wear caused by bruxism, or tooth grinding.

Onlay – A filling designed to protect the chewing surface of a tooth.

Orthodontics – A field of dentistry that deals with tooth and jaw alignment.

Overdenture – A non-fixed denture dental appliance applied to a small number of natural teeth or implants for support.


Palate – Roof of the mouth.

Partial denture – A removable appliance that replaces missing teeth.

Pediatric Dentistry – A field of dentistry that deals with children’s teeth.

Periodontal pocket – An opening formed by receding gums.

Periodontal disease – Infection of the gum tissues and bone that supports teeth. Also called gum disease.

Periodontist – A dentist who specializes in treating diseases of the gums.

Permanent teeth – The teeth that erupt after primary teeth; also called adult teeth.

Plaque – A sticky, colorless substance that covers the teeth after sleep or periods between brushing.

Posterior teeth – The bicuspids and molars; also called the back teeth.

Primary teeth – A person’s first set of teeth; also called baby teeth or temporary teeth.

Prophylaxis – The act of cleaning the teeth.

Prosthodontics – The field of dentistry that deals with artificial dental appliances.

Pulp – The inner tissues of the tooth containing blood, nerves and connective tissue.


Receding gum – A condition in which the gums separate from the tooth, allowing bacteria and other substances to attack the tooth’s enamel and surrounding bone. Your tooth root can become exposed and cause sensitivity.

Resin filling – An artificial filling used to restore teeth; also called a composite filling.

Root canal – A procedure in which a tooth’s nerve is removed and an inner canal cleansed and later filled. Many tooth problems involve infections that spread to the pulp, which is the inner chamber of the tooth containing blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. When the infection becomes worse, it can begin affecting the roots. A traumatic injury to a tooth can also compromise the pulp, leading to similar problems. A diseased inner tooth brings a host of problems including pain and sensitivity as the first indications of a problem. However, inside a spreading infection can cause small pockets of pus to develop, which can lead to an abscess. Root canal therapy is a remarkable treatment with a very high rate of success, and involves removing the diseased tissue, halting the spread of infection and restoring the healthy portion of the tooth. In fact, root canal therapy is designed to save a problem tooth. Before the procedure was developed and gained acceptance, the only alternative for treating a diseased tooth was extraction. Most patients who have root canal experience little or no discomfort or pain, and enjoy a restored tooth that can last almost as long as it’s healthy original.

Root planing – Scraping or cleansing of teeth to remove heavy buildup of tartar below the gum line. This is usually the first choice of treatment for periodontal, or gum, disease and may require you to receive some local anesthesia in the area to help with your comfort.


Sealant – A synthetic material placed on the tooth’s surface that protects the enamel and chewing surfaces.

Scaling– Scraping or cleansing of teeth to remove heavy buildup of tartar above the gum line. This is usually the first choice of treatment for gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Sleep Apnea– A common and serious sleeping disorder where your regular breathing is interrupted and even paused several times throughout the night, resulting in reduced oxygen levels and followed by brief awakenings that disrupt your sleep. Two main types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and results from your airflow becoming blocked during sleep because the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapses. Common signs of sleep apnea include snoring or choking sounds during sleep and daytime sleepiness. This condition can happen to anyone but is most common in men, people over age 40, overweight, with large tonsils, large tongue or small jaw, family history of sleep apnea and nasal obstruction due to deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems. When left untreated there are serious health risks including risk of stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, worsening ADHD, chronic acid reflux. There are various treatment options so if you think you may have sleep apnea tell your dentist or doctor. After being diagnosed by a sleep doctor, one treatment option is an oral sleep appliance that shifts your jaw forward and offers support to prevent collapsing of your airway. Your dentist can make a custom oral appliance for you if that is determined to be your best treatment.


TMJ/TMD – Temporomandibular joint disorder. Health problems related to the jaw joint (TMJ) just in front of the ear. Your dentist can help determine the cause of your pain and provide options to help.

Tarter – A hardened substance (also called calculus) that sticks to the tooth’s surface.

Toothache– Sometimes, a toothache can be caused or aggravated by a piece of debris lodged between the tooth and another tooth. Avoid placing an aspirin between your tooth and gum to relieve pain, because the dissolving aspirin can actually harm your gum tissue. Other causes for a toothache include decay, broken or fractured tooth, cracked tooth. If the face is swollen, apply cold compresses and contact your dentist immediately. It is important to see your dentist if you have a toothache or swelling so proper examination and treatment can be done to alleviate your pain.

Trauma– A broken, fractured or displaced tooth is usually not a cause for alarm, as long as decisive, quick action is taken. If the tooth has been knocked out, try to place the tooth back in its socket while waiting to see your dentist. First, rinse the mouth of any blood or other debris and place a cold cloth or compress on the cheek near the injury. This will keep down swelling. If you cannot locate the tooth back in its socket, hold the dislocated tooth by the crown – not the root. Next, place it in a container of warm milk, saline or the victim’s own saliva and keep it in the solution until you arrive at the emergency room or dentist’s office.

For a fractured tooth, it is best to rinse with warm water and again, apply a cold pack or compress. Ibuprofen may be used to help keep down swelling. If the tooth fracture is minor, the tooth can be sanded or, if necessary, restored by the dentist if the pulp is not severely damaged.

If a child’s primary tooth has been loosened by an injury or an emerging permanent tooth, try getting the child to gently bite down on an apple or piece of caramel; in some cases, the tooth will easily separate from the gum. If a child’s baby tooth is completely knocked out, contact your dentist but do not try replacing the tooth.


Veneer – A laminate applied or bonded to the tooth. Teeth that are badly stained, shaped or crooked may be improved by a veneer placed on the surface of the affected teeth. Veneers are thin pieces of porcelain or plastic cemented over the front of your teeth to change their color or shape. Veneers are used on teeth with uneven surfaces or are chipped, discolored, oddly shaped, unevenly spaced or crooked. Little or no anesthesia is needed. Veneers have a longer life expectancy and color stability than bonding, and highly resist permanent staining from coffee, tea, or even cigarette smoking. They are usually irreversible because it`s necessary to remove a small amount of enamel from your teeth to accommodate the shell.


Whitening – A process that employs special bleaching agents for restoring the color of teeth. One type of stain, caused by traumatic injuries, medications and fluorosis, actually begins inside the tooth and brushing and flossing don’t help. Another type of stain, one that can be more easily attacked by brushing, flossing and rinsing, is caused by external factors such as foods. Tooth-whitening procedures can be used to reverse the effects of aging and abuse from food and tobacco stains. Whitening agents actually change the color of your teeth, but only are effective on certain types of stains. For example, bleaching agents have a difficult time removing brownish or grayish stains. These products also are not as effective on pitted or badly discolored teeth, or on restorations such as crowns, bridges, bonding and tooth-colored fillings. Professional whitening performed by our office is considered to be the most effective and safest method. Done properly, tooth whitening can last as long as five years. We offer custom trays with take-home whitening material or in-office light-activated whitening for an immediate result. Over-the-counter whitening systems are somewhat effective as long as they are monitored and directions followed closely. Some commercially available “whitening toothpastes” can be somewhat effective at removing stains and making teeth a few shades brighter. However, many of these products have abrasive substances that can actually wear away your tooth’s enamel.

Wisdom tooth – Third set of molars that erupt last in adolescence.