Have you ever been sitting in a dentist’s chair and heard terms you didn’t understand? If so, we aren’t surprised. Dental jargon is not something the average person tends to learn about. After all, the very definition of jargon is “special words that are used by a particular profession or group and are hard for outsiders to understand.” Every industry has its own jargon – but most aren’t working on your teeth!

You may find that you’ll be much more comfortable taking part in dental services if you know a bit of inside information. This article covers an overview of different specialties and also some technical terms that might just come in handy next time you visit your friendly neighborhood dentist.

The 9 Dental Specialties

The dental industry is much more robust than most people think. Did you know that there are nine different specialties that are recognized by the American Dental Association? Each type of specialist deals with a different branch of dental medicine. Just like you would go to an orthopedist for a broken arm and not a dermatologist, there are certain dentists that have special expertise in certain areas.

Dental Public Health

This is the specialty most are familiar with. It focuses on the prevention and treatment of everyday dental diseases, such as gum disease, tooth decay, and general oral health. Ideally, you visit them every six months for oral examinations, teeth cleaning, and the removal of plaque calculus that builds up on your teeth over a period of time.

Pediatric Dentistry

Much the same as the dental public health specialty but a dental specialist whose practice revolves around infants, children, and teenagers.


If you are ever in need of root canal therapy, you may want to see an endodontist, a dental specialist that specializes in tooth pulp and periradicular tissues. Periradicular tissues are the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues that reside near the root of your tooth.

Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

Most people are very familiar with these specialists, as they are the ones that work hard to help you straighten your teeth with the use of braces, Invisalign, or other means. Dentofacial Orthopedics use many of the same tools but focus on correcting facial deformities.


A periodontics specialty surrounds diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of periodontal disease.


You can see the word prosthetic in this specialty, whose practice is limited to restorative dental procedures such as implants, bridges, crowns, and dentures. They are also licensed to perform cosmetic dental treatments.

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

These specialists deal primarily with the treatment of diseases affecting the maxillofacial regions, which include the jaw and other facial structures.

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

If you are ever in need of someone to analyze radiographic images (also known as x rays), this is your specialist. They are highly trained to spot issues of the maxillofacial area on an x ray.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

This doctor of dental surgery performs surgery on the teeth, gums, face, and jaw. They do all kinds of procedures, such as facial reconstruction, cleft lip correction, bone grafting, and removal of an impacted tooth.

Common Dental Terms

Below is a glossary of dental terms you might want to familiarize yourself with before your next dentist appointment.

Bicuspid – A premolar tooth, or a tooth with two cusps.

Calculus – Hard deposit of mineralized material adhering to the tooth structure or the root of a tooth.

Cavity – Tooth decay, also can be called a carious lesion.

Cementum – Hard connective tissue covering the root of the tooth.

Crown, Anatomical – The portion of the tooth normally covered by enamel.

Crown, Artificial – A restorative covering or replacement of the crown of a tooth.

Cusp – The pointed portion of a tooth

Decay – Term for carious lesions on the surface of a tooth or decomposition of tooth structure.

Denture – An artificial substitute for natural teeth and adjacent tissues.

Dental Prophylaxis – Procedure where your teeth are scaled, cleaned and polished.

Dental Prosthesis – An artificial device that replaces one or more missing teeth.

Enamel – Hard, calcified tissue covering dentin of the crown.

Excision – Removal of bone or soft tissue by surgical means.

Filling – Used to replace lost tooth structure, usually white or tooth colored.

Fixed Partial Denture – Replaces missing teeth and is permanently attached to adjacent teeth.

General Anesthesia – A controlled state of unconsciousness induced to perform surgical procedures.

Gingivitis – Inflammation of gingival tissue without loss of connective tissue.

Gingiva – Soft tissues overlying the crowns of unerupted or partially erupted tooth.

Incisal – The biting or chewing surfaces of the teeth.

Intraoral – Inside the mouth

Local Anesthesia – Loss of sensation in a controlled area to facilitate painless surgical procedures.

Malocclusion – Improper alignment of the biting or chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth.

Mandible – The lower jaw.

Maxilla – The upper jaw.

Palate – Hard and soft tissues that form the roof of the mouth. The soft tissues are located in the back of the mouth while the hard tissues are in the front of the mouth.

Periodontal – Pertaining to the gum tissue.

Plaque – A sticky substance that accumulates on teeth, made up of bacteria.

Pulp – Connective tissue containing nerve tissue and blood vessels that reside in the pulp cavity of a tooth.

Removable Partial Denture – A denture used to replace natural teeth, but removable for easy cleaning.

Root Canal – Part of the pulp cavity inside the tooth root which contains the pulp.

Temporary Removable Denture – An prosthesis designed for short-term use to replace missing teeth.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) – Connecting hinge mechanism between the base of the skull and the lower part of the jaw.

Unerupted – Teeth or a tooth that has not penetrated into the oral cavity.

Ready for Your Next Appointment?

Now it’s time to take your newfound knowledge out on the road. Schedule your appointment today and the next time you’re in the dentist’s chair, listen closely to what your hygienist and dentist are saying. You may just find that you have a much better idea of what’s going on with your teeth!

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