Dental Jargon Explained

Dental Jargon Explained

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


You can’t fix it, if you don’t know what’s wrong!

The diagnosis of a problem underlies all dental and medical interactions. To arrive at a diagnosis you must perform an examination. This is a process of systematic data collection to arrive at a conclusion about the specific problem.

This usually involves a history of the problem – when did it start, how long has it been going on, etc.

Visual and tactile observations are collected clinically in the mouth.

jarganexpImaging (x-rays, photographs, etc.) may be used to supplement the clinical observations and when needed various other lab tests e.g. laser cavity detection, bacteriological sampling and biopsy.

Using the collected data a diagnosis and one or more possible treatment options is formulated.

As one would expect there are a range of examination types depending on the purpose.

The Complete Oral Examination is an involved process. This is meant to provide a base line of information about new patients to a practice.

With long time patients this is periodically updated like the regular physical at the family doctor. Depending on the patient these occur anywhere from 2 to 5 years. Each update usually incorporates the newest knowledge by which to better evaluate the oral cavity for state of the art care.

These examinations address the present state of health through the lens of the past medical history. Medical conditions and medications (both prescribed and self prescribed) have impacts on the mouth and the dental care.

The examinations proceed from the outside of the head and neck, and proceeds inwards. Facial abnormalities of hard and soft tissues, cranial nerve function, cancers are looked for and the jaw joints are evaluated.

In the mouth, this survey is continued before teeth are considered. Salivary gland function is determined as is the health of the gums. If foundations are poor, houses fall down. The same with teeth –poor gums lead to no teeth. This significantly impacts the general health.

The periodontium (tooth supporting bone and gums) is examined, measured by probing for each tooth at 6 points and recorded. Decayed, missing and restored teeth are evaluated. Restored teeth may have recurrent decay; crowns, bridges and other restorative dentistry may fail over time.

The bite relationship of the upper teeth and the lowers is evaluated for position (orthodontically) and wear which may be an indicator of bruxism (parafunction involving grinding and or clenching). This has an impact on the joints, the gums, the teeth and may also be a symptom of sleep disordered breathing. Sleep disorders are serious medical conditions.

Recall, continuing care or re-care examinations are usually the brief exams when you have gum maintenance or preventive cleanings. They are usually brief and rule out serious diseases like cancers, changes in gum health and whether there are new or recurrent cavities. Radiographs (x-rays) may be a part of the process. To use a car analogy, they are like oil, filter and lubes. Anything more requires either a complete examination or a specific examination.

Specific examinations or limited examinations can be simple or quite involved. If one is having a ‘smile analysis’ for possible cosmetic dentistry, then it would be classed as a specific examination. It would encompass a complete examination and aesthetics related analyses which may involve photography, study models and.

Periodontal reevaluations after active therapy to bring gum disease under control may also be considered specific examinations.

Emergency examinations usually involve pain, bleeding, swelling and trauma of the oral cavity. Abscesses, broken teeth, temporomandibular joint issues would fall into this category. These too may be limited or quite extensive in nature depending on the nature of the problem.

Other terminology may be used depending on where you live, but the types of examination listed covers the most common terms.

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