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Tooth Terminology

September 12th, 2013

Did you ever listen to your dental team calling off the descriptions of your fillings and areas of concern?  Sounds like a bunch of alphabet soup.  Well, there is a method to our madness.
The teeth are somewhat complicated to describe.  Since the dental arches are just that, arches, the simple front and back designations don’t apply well. The “front” of a molar is facing the tooth in front of it.  The “front” of an incisor faces the lip.  Where is the “front” of a canine tooth?  It sits at an angle and cannot be described using this terminology.  We use instead the terms relating to arches.
The common terms are mesial (towards the midline of the arch), distal (towards the back of the arch), facial (towards the face), lingual (towards the tongue) and occlusal (the biting surface of back teeth) or incisal (biting edge of front teeth).  These are abbreviated with their first letters and can be used to describe which surfaces of a particular tooth are involved with a restoration or with decay.  These designations allow dental offices to communicate the exact problems discovered to other offices and insurance companies when necessary for accurate depictions of existing or planned treatment.
When combined with the tooth numbers, this can seem a very confusing way to describe the teeth.  Your dental team members are used to this language and can use the designations to quickly and effectively communicate what is needed for proper diagnosis and treatment.
While dental terminology can be confusing, we don’t use it to hide information from patients, but as a convenient “short hand” to make our job easier and quicker.  But it is imperative that the final dental decisions involve you, the patient.  Make sure that your dental team takes the time to translate all that they find into understandable terms.

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