Glossary of Orthodontic Terms

*Provided by the American Association of Orthodontists

v-bracesEvery profession has its own terms, and orthodontics is no different. Here are some typical ones you may hear in our office and encounter during treatment. We have included them for your convenience and clarification. 


Towards the front of the mouth.


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.


Upper or lower jaw.

Arch Wire

The metal wire that is attached to the brackets by small elastic o-rings or stainless steel wire ligatures.


The metal ring that is cemented to a tooth, usually the back molars, for strength and anchorage. 


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


The small metal, ceramic, or plastic button bonded to each tooth with a tooth-colored adhesive. The bracket has a slot into which the arch wire fits.

Bracket/Elastics Hooks

The bracket or band extensions that are used to attach elastics, or rubber bands.


The cheek side of the back teeth in both arches.

Buccal Tube

A small metal part of the bracket welded to the cheek side of the molar band. The tube may hold an arch wire, lip bumper, or other appliance the orthodontist may use to move the teeth.

Cephalometric Film/Radiograph

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

Cheerio or Ligature

The o-rings (tiny elastics) placed around each individual bracket to hold the arch wire in place. These are offered in a variety of colors that can be changed at each appointment.

Class I Malocclusion

A malocclusion with the proper molar relationship and teeth that are crowded, spaced apart, an overbite, an open bite, a posterior cross-bite or an anterior cross-bite.

Class II Malocclusion

A malocclusion with the upper front teeth protruding or 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 the lower teeth and/or jaw positioned ahead relative to the upper teeth and/or jaw.

Closed Bite/Deep Bite

Also known as a deep over-bite, this occurs when the upper front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth by 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.


An abnormal relation of a tooth or teeth of one arch to the opposing tooth or teeth in the other arch due to deviation of tooth position or abnormal jaw position.

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, and a panoramic and a cephalometric radiograph.


Rubber bands used to connect multiple brackets. During certain stages of treatment, small elastics may be worn to provide individual tooth movement or jaw alignment.


The removal of a tooth.

Fixed/Permanent Appliances

An orthodontic appliance that is bonded or cemented to the teeth and cannot be or should not be removed by the patient. Although referred to as permanent, it is not meant to be worn forever, except in special cases.


The surgical removal or repositioning of the frenum. A large frenum attachment can cause spacing between top front teeth or cause the tongue to be tied.


The band of tissue the passes from the upper lip to a point between the two front teeth (labial), or the band of tissue that passes from under the tongue to a midway point of the lower jaw (lingual).


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.

Habit Breaker

A fixed appliance used to help a patient stop bad habits, such as sucking thumbs or fingers and tongue thrusting, that exert undesirable forces on the teeth and bone that supports the teeth.

Interceptive Treatment

Orthodontic treatment performed to intercept a developing problem. It is usually performed on younger patients that have a mixture of primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth.


The surface of the teeth in both arches that faces the lips and cheeks.


The tongue side of the teeth in both arches.


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.


The relationship of the upper and lower jaws when talking or chewing.

Open Bite

A malocclusion in which some teeth do not make contact with the teeth in the opposing jaw. In an anterior open bite, the front teeth do not touch when the back teeth are closed together. In 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. 


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.

Panoramic Film/Radiograph

An X-ray that gives a panoramic view of both jaws on one film.

Palatal Expander

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


Toward the back of the mouth.


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

Preventive Treatment

Orthodontic treatment to prevent or reduce the severity of a developing malocclusion.

Primary Teeth

Baby teeth.

Removable Appliance

An orthodontic appliance that can be removed from the mouth by the patient. Removable appliances are used to move teeth, align jaws and to keep teeth in their new positions when the braces are removed. 


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.


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.

Space Maintainer

A fixed appliance used to hold space for an unerupted permanent tooth after a primary 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 abnormally into the arch.

Tongue Thrust

An individual's tongue pushes against the teeth when swallowing. Forces generated by the tongue can move the teeth and bone and may lead to an anterior or posterior open bite.


Wax is placed on the brackets or arch wires to prevent them from irritating the lips or cheeks.

Speck Orthodontics

  • Speck Orthodontics - 5335 Edloe Street, Houston, TX 77005 Phone: 713-668-6878 Fax: 713-668-0702

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