Dental Jargon Explained – Preventive

The following series of blogs will cover the different areas of dentistry. The aim is to simplify and explain the jargon that patients encounter in the normal course of dental visits. It is based on the Ontario Dental Association’s procedure categories and descriptions.

Preventive Dentistry

In the past we had used the phrase preventive dentistry in the context of attempting to ward off decay and gum diseases. Today this is a limiting understanding as the larger view is the prevention of any diseases involving the mouth.

Gum Disease and Cavities

Scaling (the removal of tartar or calculus deposits from the teeth) and polishing are the primary means for warding off gum diseases like gingivitis. The polishing also removes stains so that the teeth appear whiter. (Before whitening teeth we recommend this cleaning so it is the teeth that are whitened and not the tartar and stain.)

Fluoride treatments are used to minimize tooth decay. They may be rinses, painted on the teeth, gels or foams used with a tray system. This is determined by individual needs. The treatments are beneficial throughout the various stages of life.

Nutrition counseling is an important component of minimizing both decay and gum diseases. We are what we eat is important for the mouth as the rest of the body. Eating fermentable carbohydrates gives the bacteria opportunity to produce acids that cause decay. Nutrient deficiencies will show in the mouth.

Oral Hygiene Instruction may seem condescending, but the intention is to help you be proactive. At different stages of life, we have to vary our health care activities to be age appropriate and the mouth is no different. Infants and children will need different hygiene strategies than adults and geriatrics. Different degrees of oral health will also require different methods.

Fissure sealants are thin composite resin coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of adult teeth to prevent cavity causing bacteria from populating the grooves and pits found on the teeth. They are usually applied to the adult first molar and the other adult teeth as they grow into place.

Growth and development

Space maintainers are either fixed in place or removable appliances that are used to hold a space for an unerupted adult tooth when a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely. If the primary tooth is lost very early before its time, then the spaces may close as the teeth drift. To correct this usually involves orthodontics later on in life.


Appliances like the space maintainers may also be used for other reasons. Generally they prevent harmful habits from causing problems. They include habits such as thumb or digit sucking and bruxism (grinding and clenching). Bruxing appliances are also known as occlusal splints, night or mouth guards. They protect the teeth, the supporting gums, as well as the jaw joints and the muscles of chewing from damage.

Sleep apnea appliances are used when a sleep specialist physician has diagnosed the problem and the patient may not need or tolerate a CPAP machine facemask.

Mouth guards are used in athletics to prevent tooth and jaw trauma during high injury prone sports.

Bite relationships

Occlusal equilibration describes the adjustment of the chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth as they close together and as they move against each other. Harmful contacts can lead to tooth wear and trauma, gum problems, failure of restorations, and jaw joint problems.


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