Root Words, Prefixes and Suffixes Used in Dental Terms

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, so when someone says, “It’s Greek to me” … it really is!

Once again, the prefixes and suffixes that follow are by no means all inclusive, but will provide a starting place of commonly used word parts. 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 intent here is just to provide a starting place for building a good, useful dental vocabulary.

When words are combined, they often acquire an “o” to make the word flow better and be more pronounceable. Words sometimes end in -ia for the same reason and/or to indicate a condition of:

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 an a 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, dissolvingglycoLYSIS = dissolving sugar
muc-mucousMUCositis = inflammation of mucous membrane
neo-newNEOplasm = new growth
-oidresemblingwordOID = resembling a word (this is not a real word)
-omatumorodontOMA = tumor composed of tooth structures
-osiscondition, diseaseperiodontOSIS = condition of the periodontium
-path, -pathydiseasePATHOlogy = study of disease
peri-aroundPERIoral = around the mouth
perio-supporting structuresof 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, after
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