Terminology for Dental Assistants

There are many terms that dental assistants and dentists use to communicate when delivering care to patients, maintaining patient records, and preparing claims. Medical terminology can sometimes feel like learning a new language, so taking some time to familiarize yourself with some of the most commonly used dental terms can be really helpful.

Here is a list of common dental terminology that you may hear or read as you learn more about the dental field.

Anesthesia
Local anesthesia, also known as novocaine, is used during most dental procedures. The doctor will administer the anesthesia as an injection, and the medication is designed to numb the patient and temporarily prevent the teeth fibers from transmitting impulse.

Abrasion
Dental abrasion is when the teeth start to lose enamel due to some sort of outside mechanical action. This is most likely caused by the forces applied to the teeth.

Abscess
An abscess is a chronic or acute infection of a tooth, soft tissue, or bone. It is essentially a build up of pus that forms inside the teeth or gums. It forms from a bacterial infection that has accumulated in the soft pulp of a tooth.

Arch
A dental arch is the curve of the row of teeth in each jaw. It is also known as an arcade.

Bicuspid
Bicuspid teeth are also called premolar teeth. They are located between the canines and the molars in the back of the mouth, and they have two cusps. Their main purpose is to help us bite down on and chew food.

Bilateral
Anything that occurs both on the left and right side.

Biopsy
A dental biopsy is the removal of a tissue sample used to determine if there is a disease present. A gum biopsy is a medical procedure in which a doctor removes a sample of tissue from the gums. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

Bonding
Bonding is a composite resin put on a tooth to change its color, shape, or both. This can also refer to how certain fillings or dentures are applied to the teeth.

Cavity
A cavity is also called a carious lesion, and it is a decay in tooth enamel and structure caused by caries. They are permanently damaged areas on the hard surface of teeth that develop into tiny openings and holes. Tooth decay or caries are caused by a number of different factors. They could be caused by bacteria in your mouth, not cleaning your teeth well, and consuming a lot of sugary drinks or food.

Canal
A canal is a narrow tubular passage. There are different types of canals, such as root canals and mandibular canals.

Caries
This is a commonly used term for tooth decay.

Cementum
Cementum is a bone-like mineralized tissue lining the dentin of the root that protects the root. It also serves as an attachment surface to another. It’s part of the periodontium that attaches the teeth to the alveolar bone.

Composite
Composite is a dental restorative material made up of separate parts.

Crown
A crown is an artificial replacement that restores missing tooth structures. The crown is made of metal, ceramic, or polymer materials. The dentist puts it on by luting cement. There are several types of crowns. There are gold, porcelain, metal, and ceramic crowns.

Cyst
A cyst is a cavity that is lined with the epithelium, and it contains fluid or soft matter.

Dentin
The dentin is a hard and dense bony tissue forming the bulk of the tooth. It is located underneath the enamel.

Denture
A denture is an artificial and removable placement for missing teeth and surrounding tissues. There are two types of dentures available. There are complete dentures, which are used when all the teeth are missing and then there are partial dentures, which are used when some natural teeth are missing.

Decay
Decay is a lesion in a tooth; also known as decomposition of tooth structure.

Enamel
Enamel is the thin outer covering of the tooth. It covers the crown, and it is translucent, so you can see light through it.

Erosion
Dental erosion is the irreversible loss of dental hard tissue from acids, without the involvement of bacteria. This happens when acids wear away on the enamel on teeth. It can be caused by consuming a lot of acids.

Extraction
A dental extraction refers to the complete removal of one or more teeth from the mouth. This procedure is usually performed by a dental surgeon.

Gingivitis
Gingivitis is a common form of gum disease (also called periodontal disease). It can cause irritation, redness, and swelling. The inflammation is primarily around your gingiva, which is the part of your gum around the base of your teeth.

Implant
Dental implants are artificial metal posts or frames that are surgically positioned into the jawbone beneath the gums.

Impression
An impression is an imprint of the teeth and soft tissues in the mouth from which a cast can be formed. It is usually created by placing a material in a custom dental impression tray. It is designed to fit over the dental arches.

Intraoral
Intraoral refers to the inside of the mouth.

Lesion
An oral lesion is an ulcer that occurs on the mucous membrane of the oral activity. The tooth decay is caused by cavities.

Periodontitis
Periodontitis is an inflammation and loss of the connective tissue surrounding the teeth. If there is loss of the structure, the teeth may loosen or fall out.

Plaque
Plaque is a sticky, colorless, or pale yellow film.

Pulp
The pulp is the connective tissue filling a tooth’s pulp cavity. It contains blood vessels and nerve tissues.

Radiograph
A radiograph is an x-ray.

Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
When a student finishes their dental assisting program, they usually take a national certification test that is offered by the American Medical Technologists Association.

Root
The root is the portion of the tooth that is located in the socket.

Root canal
A root canal is the pulp-filled cavity in the root of a tooth. Individuals normally get this procedure done to replace infected pulp in a root canal with a special material.

Sealant
A sealant is a plastic material that is applied to parts of the teeth. It’s a UV light-cured resin, which is used to coat fissures in teeth and prevent cavities and dental decay.

Stomatitis
An inflammation in the membranes of the mouth and lips.

Suture
A suture is a stitch to repair an incision or wound.

Transplantation
Surgical placement of biological material from one site to another.

Unerupted
An unerupted tooth is a tooth that has not come to the surface yet.

Unilateral
One-sided; pertaining to or affecting but one side.

Veneer
A veneer is a layer of tooth-colored material attached to the surface by direct fusion, cementation, or other mechanical ways. A dentist can usually remove a visible tooth (usually the case for children), while an oral surgeon will cut into the gum to remove a tooth below the gum or place the dental implant into the jawbone.

Medical Assistant Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Huntsville
  • Quad Cities
  • Evansville
  • Fort Wayne
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Dental Assistant Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Huntsville
  • Evansville
  • Fort Wayne
  • Granger
  • Kokomo
  • Lafayette
  • Muncie
  • Erlanger
  • Owensboro
  • Ann Arbor
  • Brighton
  • Canton (MI)
  • Davison
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids
  • Kalamazoo
  • Kentwood
  • Lansing
  • Madison Heights
  • New Baltimore
  • Muskegon
  • Saginaw
  • Cincinnati
  • Dayton
  • Elyria
  • Niles
  • Johnson City
  • Knoxville
  • Charleston
  • Morgantown
Veterinary Assistant Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Huntsville
  • Erlanger
  • Canton
  • Kalamazoo
  • Madison Heights
  • New Baltimore
Pharmacy Technician Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Huntsville
  • Evansville
  • Fort Wayne
  • Granger
  • Muncie
  • Bowling Green
  • Brighton
  • Davison
  • Kalamazoo
  • Kentwood
  • Lansing
  • Madison Heights
  • Saginaw
  • Cincinnati
  • Mansfield
  • Johnson City
  • Charleston
Nursing Assistant Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Grand Rapids
  • Kalamazoo
  • Midland
Medical Insurance Billing & Office Administration Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Huntsville
  • Evansville
  • Fort Wayne
  • Granger
  • Kokomo
  • Lafayette
  • Muncie
  • Bowling Green
  • Erlanger
  • Owensboro
  • Ann Arbor
  • Brighton
  • Canton (MI)
  • Davison
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids
  • Kalamazoo
  • Kentwood
  • Lansing
  • Madison Heights
  • New Baltimore
  • Port Huron
  • Muskegon
  • Saginaw
  • Taylor
  • Cincinnati
  • Dayton
  • Elyria
  • Niles
  • Mansfield
  • Johnson City
  • Knoxville
  • Charleston
  • Morgantown
Occupational Therapy Assistant Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Hopkinsville
  • Quad Cities
Nursing Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Canton (OH)
Practical Nursing Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Canton (OH)
Veterinary Technology Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Canton (OH)
Business Management Program offered at these campus locations:
  • Hopkinsville, KY
Medical Assistant Associate of Applied Science Degree online program
Health Care Administration Associate Degree online program
Human, Social, and Health Services Associate of Applied Science Degree online program
Medical Billing Administrative Specialist Associate Degree online program
Medical Office Administration Certificate Program online program