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/Suffix Definition Example
-algia pain odontALGIA = tooth pain
-a without Acellular = having no cells
arth- joint ARTHOscope=an instrument to see inside a joint
dent, odont tooth or teeth ODONToma = tumor composed of tooth structures
-ectomy excision appendECTOMY = excision of the appendix
-emia blood hyperEMIA = above normal amount of blood in tissue
endo- within ENDOdont =inside a tooth
-gen- beginning, produce pathoGENic = disease producing
gingiv- pertaining to the gums GINGIVitis = inflammation of the gums
glyc- sugar GYLColysis = sugar dissolving
hyper- over, excessive, above HYPERmobility= more mobility than normal
hypo- below, under, deficient HYPOthermia = below normal temperature
-ia, -iasis condition odontalgIA = condition of tooth pain
infra- below INFRAorbital = below the eye
inter- between INTERcellular = between cells
intra- within INTRAoral = within the mouth
itis inflammation periodontITIS = inflammation of supporting structures of teeth
lingu- pertaining to the tongue LINGUal surface = the surface closest to the tongue
-logy study of pathoLOGY = study of disease
-lysis destruction, dissolving hemoLYSIS = breakdown of red blood cells
muc- mucous MUCositis = inflammation of mucous membrane
neo- new NEOplasm = new growth
-oid resembling amebOID = resembling an amoeba
-oma tumor odontOMA = tumor composed of tooth structures
-osis condition, disease periodontOSIS = condition of the periodontium
-path, -pathy disease PATHOlogy = study of disease
peri- around PERIoral = around the mouth
perio- supporting structures of the teeth PERIOdontal = involving the supporting structures of teeth
-phil- love acidoPHILic = acid loving
-plast, -plasty repair, form, grow gingivoPLASTy = repair of the gingiva to functional form
post- behind, after POSTnatal = relating to the period after childbirth
py pus PYogenic= pus producing
-rrhea burst forth, pour sialoRRHEA = excessive flow of saliva
-scope instrument used to view arthoSCOPE = an instrument to see inside a joint
sial- saliva SIALorrhea = excessive flow of saliva
-stomia mouth xeroSTOMIA = dry mouth
super- above, excessive SUPERnumerary = excessive number
supra- above SUPRAgingival = above the margin of the gums
xero- dry XEROstomia = dry mouth