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Oral Health Care: A Whole New Language

Course Number: 21

Root Words, Prefixes and Suffixes Used in Dental Terminology

One of the fun parts of learning dental/medical terminology is making difficult, long, impressive-looking words understandable. By learning what the word parts mean, it is much easier to understand what a brand-new word is, even if you have never seen or heard it before. Most medical terms originated in either Greek or Latin.

Root words provide the basic foundation for the word and provide the main meaning. A prefix comes at the beginning of the root word and alters the word meaning. A suffix comes at the end of the root word and also alters the word meaning. A combining vowel, usually ‘o’ is used to join the word parts and make pronunciation easier.

The list of basic root words, prefixes and suffixes that follows is not intended to be all-inclusive, but will provide a starting place for commonly used word parts to assist in building a strong vocabulary. There are specific rules for combining words and for the order of the root words within a word, so it would be a good idea to study further to really understand how dental/medical terms are put together and read. Two excellent resources for additional medical terms are Building a Medical Vocabulary or Quick & Easy Medical Terminology both by Peggy C. Leonard, published by W. B. Saunders Company.

The table below lists popular prefixes and suffixes, the definition and an example of use.

Prefix/SuffixDefinitionExample
-algiapainodontALGIA = tooth pain
-awithoutAcellular = having no cells
arth-jointARTHOscope=an instrument to see inside a joint
dent, odonttooth or teethODONToma = tumor composed of tooth structures
-ectomyexcisionappendECTOMY = excision of the appendix
-emiabloodhyperEMIA = above normal amount of blood in tissue
endo-withinENDOdont =inside a tooth
-gen-beginning, producepathoGENic = disease producing
gingiv-pertaining to the gumsGINGIVitis = inflammation of the gums
glyc-sugarGYLColysis = sugar dissolving
hyper-over, excessive, aboveHYPERmobility= more mobility than normal
hypo-below, under, deficientHYPOthermia = below normal temperature
-ia, -iasisconditionodontalgIA = condition of tooth pain
infra-belowINFRAorbital = below the eye
inter-betweenINTERcellular = between cells
intra-withinINTRAoral = within the mouth
itisinflammationperiodontITIS = inflammation of supporting structures of teeth
lingu-pertaining to the tongueLINGUal surface = the surface closest to the tongue
-logystudy ofpathoLOGY = study of disease
-lysisdestruction, dissolvinghemoLYSIS = breakdown of red blood cells
muc-mucousMUCositis = inflammation of mucous membrane
neo-newNEOplasm = new growth
-oidresemblingamebOID = resembling an amoeba
-omatumorodontOMA = tumor composed of tooth structures
-osiscondition, diseaseperiodontOSIS = condition of the periodontium
-path, -pathydiseasePATHOlogy = study of disease
peri-aroundPERIoral = around the mouth
perio-supporting structures of the teethPERIOdontal = involving the supporting structures of teeth
-phil-loveacidoPHILic = acid loving
-plast, -plastyrepair, form, growgingivoPLASTy = repair of the gingiva to functional form
post-behind, afterPOSTnatal = relating to the period after childbirth
pypusPYogenic= pus producing
-rrheaburst forth, poursialoRRHEA = excessive flow of saliva
-scopeinstrument used to viewarthoSCOPE = an instrument to see inside a joint
sial-salivaSIALorrhea = excessive flow of saliva
-stomiamouthxeroSTOMIA = dry mouth
super-above, excessiveSUPERnumerary = excessive number
supra-aboveSUPRAgingival = above the margin of the gums
xero-dryXEROstomia = dry mouth