Common Orthodontic Terms and What They Mean

When you visit your orthodontist for the first time, there’s no pressure to talk like a pro. But it does help to familiarize yourself with some common orthodontic terms. You may hear these being brought up throughout your treatment, so brushing up on your orthodontic vocabulary can help you feel more prepared when you visit the office.


Easily one of the most misused orthodontic terms, “overbite” and “overjet” are often improperly conflated. But the difference is important when it comes to optimizing your treatment plan. An overjet refers to when the upper teeth stick out too much compared to the lower teeth, which is an issue in its own right. On the other hand, an overbite refers to how much your upper teeth cover your lower teeth when you bite down.

Everyone should have about a 10-20% overbite, but any more than this can cause problems.


A crossbite refers to the upper teeth fitting into the lower teeth when it should be the other way around. This can result in some serious problems, such as chronic pain, uneven tooth wear, and problems speaking and eating.

Open Bite

Your front teeth should have some vertical overlap when you bite down. When there is a gap or when there is too little overlap, this is known as an open bite. Open bites can be caused by prolonged pacifier use, thumb sucking, and mouth breathing


This happens when the teeth fit in front of the upper teeth when you bite down. Underbites are most often corrected with small rubber bands, or elastics, attached to your braces or Invisalign. These bands are attached toward the back of the upper jaw and the front of the lower jaw to slowly move the lower jaw back into alignment.


You’ll likely hear this term quite a bit since it’s a blanket term referring to any issues with the bite or the positioning of the teeth.


The archwire is a part of the braces that provides the pressure necessary for moving teeth. It is the wire attached to the brackets that connect them to each other.


This is another essential piece of braces that helps your braces correct the position of your teeth. The ligatures are the small rubber bands you see attaching the wires to the brackets on braces.

Cephalometric Radiograph

Don’t freak out if you hear you’re getting a cephalometric radiograph at the orthodontist’s office. While it may sound like a crazy science experiment, it simply refers to an x-ray taken to gather a side profile image of your jaw. This information is then used to determine the right treatment plan to improve your overall oral health.


This term refers to the tiny white marks on your teeth resulting from poor brushing habits. Decalcification marks can indicate a higher likelihood of developing cavities in the future, and unfortunately they are permanent, which is why it is so important to keep your teeth clean while you have braces.

Essix Retainer

This type of retainer is made similarly to Invisalign aligners. Essix retainers are comfortable to wear and are removed when eating, drinking, brushing, and flossing.


This is just orthodontist-speak for your lower jaw.

Mixed Dentition

This is the stage in development when your kids have a mix of both baby teeth and adult teeth. Kids usually are in mixed dentition between the ages of six and 12. This age is the perfect time to see an orthodontist and potentially take care of some issues that become harder to treat as your child gets older.

Supernumerary Teeth

Despite the fun title, there’s nothing “super” about supernumerary teeth. This term refers to extra teeth in a person’s smile. Most of the time, these teeth interfere with proper jaw development or tooth placement and need to be removed.

To learn more about common orthodontic terms or to put your new knowledge to the test, be sure to schedule your free consultation here at Milnor Orthodontics today!

At Milnor Orthodontics, our experts are here to help you achieve a priceless smile. Call our office at (970) 230-3187 or visit to learn more. We're located at 1103 S. Shields St. in Fort Collins, Colorado.