Author: Dental Fear Central
Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on June 28, 2020

Dental Terminology

If you’re trying to figure out what the numbers that dentists might blurt out during a check-up mean, we’ve got a separate page on tooth numbering systems and gum charting.


Maxilla = upper jaw
Mandible = lower jaw

maxillary = relating to the upper jaw
mandibular = relating to the lower jaw

interproximal = the space between two teeth that are next to each other

buccal (B) = the side of a tooth facing the cheek
lingual (L) = the side of a tooth facing the tongue
mesial (M) = the side of a tooth facing towards the midline of the mouth
distal (D) = the side of a tooth facing away from the midline of the mouth
occlusal (O) = the chewing surface of back teeth
incisal (I) = the biting edge of the front and canine (fang) teeth

For example, an MOD composite means a tooth-coloured filling that covers the mesial, occlusal and distal tooth surface.

Names of teeth

Other useful words (A-Z)

Abscess: A collection of pus, which usually forms because of an infection.

Amalgam: Silver filling material.

Bite wings: Small x-rays that allow to look at the surfaces where the teeth meet each other (used to look for checking for cavities)

Bruxism: Teeth grinding.

Calculus: If plaque is not removed, it can harden over a few days and turn into calculus (also known as tartar). Calculus is a bit like scale in a kettle and over time can cause gum disease.

Composite: Tooth-coloured filling material.

Caries: A fancy word for tooth decay.

Endodontist: A specialist dentist for root canal treatment.

Gingival: Relating to the gums.

Gingivitis: The earliest stage of gum disease, and usually easily reversible.

OPG: Large full head x-ray that shows your bone levels and the pathology of your mouth (not very useful for checking for cavities, but good for seeing if gum disease has affected bone levels).

Orthodontist: A dentist who specialises in braces and other appliances to slowly move teeth into a different position.

PA: Small x-rays that focus on one or two teeth in particular.

Periodontist: A specialist dentist for periodontal (gum) disease.

Periodontitis: The stages of gum disease after gingivitis. Usually treated by a deep cleaning and good home care.

Plaque: A sticky biofilm made up mostly of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth and along the gumline.

Prosthodontist: A dentist with extensive additional training in replacing and restoring teeth.

RCT: See Root canal treatment.

Root canal: A canal that runs inside the root of the tooth, and contains nerves and blood vessels. Front teeth, canines, lower premolars and some upper second premolars have only one canal, whereas molars have three or more canals.

Root canal treatment: A treatment for the canal(s) inside the tooth. Sometimes abbreviated to “root canal” or RCT.