Dental Vocabulary Definitions


ADA Code
Is the American Dental Association’s identification number for each and every dental procedure we might perform.
ADA Form
The American Dental Association (ADA) has standardized on a dental insurance claim form. This is what we usually refer to as the `insurance form’.
Towards the front. There are six anterior teeth on the top and six on the bottom.
Silver colored restorations made up predominantly of silver and mercury and chemically bonded together. These are often used posterior teeth where esthetics are not as important. The US government has determined that the mercury in the amalgam is not harmful to patients and the American Dental Association considers it unethical for a dentist to remove amalgams, replacing them with composites or lightbonds , without clear medical evidence that of its harm.
Assignment of Benefits
The patient’s permission, in writing, for the insurance company to make payments for dental procedures directly to the dental practice providing them. In this way the patient does not receive the insurance check directly from the company. Patients give permission for assignment of benefits unless they wish to pay us directly at the time services are rendered.
Is also called the sterilizer. It utilizes steam under pressure and heat to completely kill bacteria and viruses. We periodically inspect the machine by running a spore test on it and then incubating the test tube. At 270° only 3 minutes are needed to kill all living organisms. At 260° 10 minutes is required.


A legal insurance gimmick which costs double-covered patients money. The secondary insurance coverage will only pay if its coverage would be more generous than that of the primary coverage. Example: Mr. N’s primary insurance covers $700 on a crown while Mr. N’s secondary insurance covers $750 on a crown. He is paying full premiums on both policies. But because his secondary coverage is BLB while his primary pays $700, his secondary will pay only $50. If our fee is $850 he still has to come up with $100 out of pocket. Without BLB our total fee would be paid by the two insurance companies; one paying $700 and the other $150.
Or nerve block. The injection of the anesthetic in the back of the mouth (usually in the mandible ).
Drug Enforement Administration (or) Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This is another US government agency charged with regulating the prescription and dispensation of narcotics. They charge each doctor (and hence you) about $110 a year for the privilege of properly taking care of those patients who are in pain and need something more than aspirin.
Bony Impaction
Either totally or partially covered with bone. In order to extract a tooth which is covered by bone it is necessary for the overlying gum and bone to be surgically removed first.
Bridges, are non-removable tooth replacements made to extremely fine tolerances.
Is the abbreviation for Bite-Wing X-rays which are used to detect caries) on back teeth. We normally take two on each side of the patient’s mouth.


Is dental tooth decay. It is literally an infection of the tooth structure.
The money the covered patient should receive but won’t because his secondary policy has a Benefits-less-benefits provision.
Having to do with a hands-on physical examination, diagnosis or treatment. Easily visible.
Clinical Crown
That portion of the tooth which is covered in enamel . It is the part which is usually visible to the eye. It does not include the root or roots.
A tooth-colored restoration which can be either chemically cured or light-cured as in a light-bond restoration.
As opposed to preventive type procedures, it generally means insurance coverage for major items such as crowns , root canals , bridges and dentures. For example the insurance company may pay 100% of preventive , 80% of amalgams and 50% of comprehensive or major.
Convenient Hours
Most DENTFIRST offices are open Monday through Thursday from 8 am to 8 pm. Friday we are open until 6 pm and on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm.
Is the portion of the fee which the insurance company will not cover. The patient is responsible for paying this portion. It is illegal for us not to collect this portion by writing it off.
Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. It is required by the Georgia Board of Dentistry that all doctors and hygienists be recertified every two years by taking this course which is designed by the American Heart Association.
Also known as “caps”. These restorations cover the biting surface as well as the front, back and both sides. They are hollow in the center (like a thimble) and are used when the tooth is so broken down that amalgams or light bonds would not work. When several crowns are joined together to replace a missing tooth or teeth we have a bridge spanning that space.
No, not “made well”. It is used here to mean the final hardening process of a dental material so that it is fully functional.


Drug Enforement Administration (or) Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This is another US government agency charged with regulating the prescription and dispensation of narcotics. They charge each doctor (and hence you) about $110 a year for the privilege of properly taking care of those patients who are in pain and need something more than aspirin.
This is the room in which radiographs are developed. It is light tight and has a safelight for seeing what you are doing without harming the film.
Refers to “baby” teeth that will be lost just like leaves falling off a tree.
The initial annual (or lifetime) costs for dentistry which must be paid out of the patient’s own pocket; that is the insurance company will not pay for this portion. It usually is only $25 to $50 a year and often is not required for preventive procedures such as prophies , exams and radiographs.
Means the identification of a dental problem. The dentist must identify the problem before she can provide the necessary treatment.
Double Book
Scheduling two patients, in two chairs, who are seeing the same doctor for some treatment at the very same (or overlapping) times. This is what clinics do; giving everybody the same appointment time. We reserve times exclusively for our patients.
Double Coverage
The patient has two insurance policies in force simultaneously. This usually occurs when both the primary and secondary employers provide insurance coverage. Remember, however that just becauser the patient has two dental insurance policies does not mean that they pay the entire fee. This is especially true if one of the policies has a benefits-less-benefits provision.


The extremely hard covering of a tooth. It is the hardest substance in the human body.
Explanation of Benefits. This is the insurance company’s response to our PTR . In it they state exactly what dollar benefits will be paid if we do the specified procedures.
Pronounced EPI-NEF’-RINN Also called “adrenaline” it is added to some anesthetic solutions to decrease the flow of anesthetic away from the area being worked upon. This, in turn, allows the numbness to last longer.
Good-looking. The area of dentistry concerned with making teeth look good and smiles bright. For example: while a silver restoration might function well on an incisor, it would not be esthetic.
Patient exam codes from the ADA
There are 4 basic kinds of patient exams:

  • Sercode 110; Initial examination which is done for all NP at the time of their initial FMX and any subsequent FMX’s. This is usually once every 3 to 5 years. “Initial” is a poor choice of words since it will recur time and time again.
  • Sercode 120; Periodic Oral Evaluation is done at every scheduled prophy appointment not to exceed twice a year.
  • Sercode 130; Emergency exam is done when the doctor treats a problem at a time other than scheduled hygiene maintenance therapy appointment.
  • The 93xx series of sercodes are reserved for specialists’ exams.


Fee Schedule
Means that the insurance company will pay up to a certain fee for a particular procedure as long as the dentist’s fee is higher. These fees are often so low as to be ridiculous. By setting a low limit the insurance company cuts its costs and ensures itself and its purchasing employer maximum profit.
Film Packet
X-ray film is enclosed in thin cardboard (for rigidity), a thin lead sheet (to prevent scatter radiation from fogging the film) and a plastic pocket (for sterility and to keep it dry). In the darkroom , with only the safelight on, this packet is opened and the film inserted into the processor.
Fixed Bridge Work
Bridges, are non-removable tooth replacements made to extremely fine tolerances.
Is a full mouth series of 18 radiographs covering all portions of all teeth. These are normally taken once every 3 to 5 years on adults as well as on children who have reached the age of 12 (and therefore have all their adult teeth and none of their deciduous ones.
Full Denture
Is a removable replacement for teeth. This term is used when ALL the teeth in maxilla and/or the mandible are missing.


Group Number
Generally each employer has one group number. But this is not always the case. Sometimes there are several option plans available for the employee. Usually hourly workers will have a different level of coverage than will management or contract employees.
The individual who is responsible for paying is for the work when it is completed. This person is also often called the “responsible party”.


Is bad breath. It may be due stomach problems, recent meals, or poor oral hygiene.
Is a dental drill. Low speed handpieces are used by doctors and hygienists. They run at about 5000 rpm. High speed handpieces run at 400,000 rpm and are used by doctors to prepare teeth for restorations.
Is Hepatitis – B virus. It causes liver disease and is contagious.
Emphasize with a transparent magic-marker Hilite.
Health Maintenance Organization. The dentists in such a plan are paid a certain amount each month to provide all treatment to certain patients. They are paid this amount whether the patient comes in or not. If the patient needs a lot of work then the dentist will lose a lot of money. If the patient needs no work then the dentist makes money. Do you think that the dentist will find anything wrong when he does his exam? DENTFIRST has never participated in any HMO because we feel it encourages dishonesty and patchwork dentistry.


A tooth which is not visible to the eyes because it is encased in bone or gum.
A front tooth which is used for tearing. There are six upper and six lower incisors.
The injection of the anesthetic next to a tooth (usually in the maxilla ).






This is the most commonly used local anesthetic used in dentistry. (No one has actually used “Novocain” for 30 years.) It come in 1.8 cc vials with four possible concentrations of epinephrine included: 1 part in 20,000 1:50,000 1:100,000 (or none).
A tooth colored restoration which is inserted into a tooth and then hardened by shining a special blue light on it from a handheld light gun.


Maintenance Therapy
This is the “90’s” term for 6 month cleanings and exams.
Make a Model
Don’t use “Take an impression”. The patient will wonder, “Where are you going to take it?”
This is the lower jaw. The word “mandibular” refers to the lower jaw.
This is the upper jaw. The word “maxillary” refers to the upper jaw.
MedHx Sticker
Medical History sticker. This is a small red label which indicates that there is something in this particular patient’s medical status which significantly alters the way in which he should be treated. Examples include allergies to medicines and previous or present illnesses.
Pronounced MEPP-IF’-E-CANE Another anesthetic solution. It comes two ways: with and without a vasoconstrictor called Neo-cobefrine. The 3% mepivicaine solution without neo-cobefrine is used for short acting more diffuse anesthetic or for a patient with a poor reaction to epinephrine.
Model Trimmer
A large abrasive wheel cooled and cleansed by water, which shapes and trims stone models. It is very dangerous.
  1. Noun: A cardboard or plastic holder designed to store and display radiographs in a useable sequence.
  2. Verb: To place radiographs into the holder.
Material Safety Data Sheets. Every potentially hazardous product used here at DENTFIRST has a corresponding MSDS sheet detailing its chemical makeup, actions to be taken in case of spills or excessive contact, and the name and address of the manufacturer.


Is used to power a special handpiece used in Oral Surgery. In some offices the tank sits on a roll-around dolly. The gas is harmless (in fact the air we breath is 79% nitrogen).
Nitrous Head
No, it is not someone who abuses nitrous oxide! It is the flowmeter which regulates the mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It is capable of administering up to 70% nitrous oxide and 30% oxygen. Room air contains 20% oxygen so there is a margin for error. The head also turns off the flow of nitrous oxide if no oxygen is running through it (as when an oxygen tank runs empty).
NP (New Patient)
This is shorthand for a New Patient; a person who has not yet been treated at any of the DENTFIRST offices. Every patient must have a chart made patient registration form and medical history form filled out. Each is issued a chart number which is then affixed to their chart folder. A patient profile is built for them in the computer. New Patients are “very important” to our dental practice.


Use treatment room instead.
Option Plans
An employer may offer several plans to its employees; usually at varying costs to that employee. For example: High option usually covers crowns at 50% while Low Option may not pay anything on them at all. The employee may or may not have the choice of making up the difference in the premiums required to move from Low to High Option coverage.
Oral Pathologist
Is a dentist who, using a microscope and clinical examination, identifies the nature and/or cause of a disease so that it can be treated.
Oral Surgery
Is the area of dentistry which specializes in extraction of teeth (especially third molars) , the placement of implants as well as any other jaw surgery.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is the branch of the US Department of Labor which is concerned with employee health, training and safety on the job.


A radiograph taken extra-orally which shows the maxilla, mandible, sinuses and all the teeth. It is especially useful in those cases where because of difficult tooth position or the young age of patient it would be impossible to obtain intra-oral radiographs.
A x-ray machine which takes panographic radiographs. (Actually this is a brand name but we use it to describe our machines even though they may came from another manufacturer.)
Partial Dentures
Are removable tooth replacements. The word “partial” indicates that not all of the teeth in a jaw are being replaced.
Disease, such as dental decay, or other diseases and infections.
Patient Chart
is the manila folder containing the diagnostic and treatment history for each patient. It contains all the radiographs ever taken on this patient, all the medical history forms and records of treatment. If insurance forms have been printed they are clipped in the left side of the chart. Treatment and medical information goes on the right side and the radiographs sit in a pocket behind the chart cover.
Children’s dentistry.
Percentage of Benefits
Or “percentage” as opposed to schedule . The insurance company will pay up to a certain percentage for each sercode . It is as if they had their own fee schedule . If we charge $500 for a procedure and their percentage is 80% then they will pay $400. If we charge $400 and their schedule lists it at $500 then they will pay us 80% of our fee or $320. Often insurance companies only pay a percentage of a schedule additionally reducing their benefits. We still call this “percentage”, although the insurance companies’ intent is to mislead.
Is the specialty in dentistry which treats diseases of the gums and bone; the supporting structures for the teeth.
Is a stabilizing device anchoring a crown bridge to the underlying tooth. It is used when the underlying tooth is missing most of its clinical crown
Towards the back.
Preferred Provider Organization. This is a group of dentists who have agreed to treat a group of patients for less then the usual fee. Not to be confused with an HMO.
Patients who have had rheumatic fever, pacemakers, artificial joints and several other conditions will need to have an Rx of antibiotic before their scheduled appointment. They can not be seen without having taken their medication or getting a release letter from their physician.
The payment (usually monthly) made to an insurance company for dental insurance coverage.
Prophies , exams and radiographs
Preventive Waived
The insurance company does not require the patient to pay the initial $25 or $50 if the only treatment being rendered is a preventive type procedure.
If the patient has 2 active policies this refers to the insurance billed first for dental coverage. If both parents have coverage, for example, the wife’s primary is her employer while the husband’s primary is his employer. For their children many insurance companies consider the primary parent to be that parent born earliest in the year. If Dad was born on May 19th and Mom was born on Nov 29th then the Dad’s insurance is primary for all the kids. The insurance company will tell you of any exceptions.
Processor (X-ray)
The automatic processor takes the undeveloped film and sequentially places it in developer solution, fixer solution and finally a water wash. It is then dried and exits from the processor ready to be read or mounted.
Dental cleaning with a hygienist. This word is often abbreviated as “prophy”.
Is the area of dentistry specializing in replacement of teeth either by removable full or partial dentures or fixed bridges.
The professional providing treatment to the patient. This can be the doctor or the dental hygienist.
Pretreatment. This is notification to a patient’s insurance company of what we have found to be necessary for his treatment. It is DENTFIRST policy to PTR all work if it exceeds $200. This gives the patient reassurance that the insurance company agrees that the work is necessary.


The mouth is divided into four sections or “quads”:

  • Upper Right (teeth # 1 – 8)
  • Upper Left (teeth # 9 – 16)
  • Lower Left (teeth # 17 – 24)
  • Lower Right (teeth # 25 – 32)


Teeth are numbered starting from the patient’s upper right, going across to the upper left, then the lower left and then over to the lower right. If you were “standing on your own tongue” this would describe the letter “C”.


We prefer that you use this term instead of `x-rays’. We do use the term `x-ray machine’, however.
The abbreviation for Root Canal Therapy.
Any procedure which brings a tooth or teeth back into function such as fillings or crowns.


A low-wattage (15 watts) light with a special red filter allows you to see what you’re doing in the darkroom without harming the film by allowing it contact with regular light which would immediately ruin it once the film packet is opened.
Saliva Ejector
A flexible, pencil sized tube which is usually shaped by the assistant into a question mark and hung gently in the corner of a patient’s mouth so that excess water will not pool in his mouth. The device is discarded after each patient.
Schedule of Benefits
Or “schedule” as opposed to percentage . The insurance company will pay up to a certain amount for each sercode . It is as if they had their own fee schedule . If we charge $500 for a procedure and their schedule lists it at $400 then they will pay only $400. If We charge $400 and their schedule lists it at $500 then they will pay us our fee of $400. Either way they win and the patient loses.
Sharps Container
Is the red plastic container found in all treatment rooms here at DENTFIRST. The following items must be placed in the sharps container before you leave the room: sharp objects (such as needles, broken glass and scalpels), blood-soaked items and extracted teeth.
Soft Tissue Impaction
Either totally or partially covered with gum tissue. In order to extract a tooth which is covered in gum tissue it is necessary that the overlying gum tissue be surgically removed first.
We do not call them bills. Sometimes we are waiting for insurance company payment and we merely wish to keep our patients informed of the status of their accounts. But if their statement is marked “Payment Due” then they are expected to pay.
Suction Pump
In the machine room is a dual engine pump, driven by water, which is attached to the suction tip and saliva ejectors in all the treatment rooms.
Suction Tip
This item is a rigid tube about 6 inches long and a half an inch in diameter, held by the dental assistant in the patient’s mouth to remove the water sprays used by her and the dentist. There is one in every treatment room . They are sterilized after each use.


Television (Ceiling)
Each treatment room has a ceiling-mounted remote control 17-19 inch television for our patients’ use during dental procedures. Allow them to control the remote control while they are in the chair having their teeth fixed.
Third Molars
Are commonly called “wisdom teeth”. There is usually one in the posterior of each quadrant They can be seen as erupted soft tissue impaction or bony impaction.
Treatment Room
Remember: It is not called an operatory. It is the room where patients are treated.




A slight concentration of this is added to a local anesthetic to keep the anesthetic at the injection site for a longer time. This causes the numbness to last longer. We use Neo-cobefrine and epinephrine.


Waiting Room
We call this the “Reception Area.”
A patient who is not on your schedule who just shows up at your door for treatment (usually of a toothache). We try to be nice to these patients and work them into the schedule.


Dental x-rays are a type of picture of the teeth and mouth. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, just like visible light. They are of higher energy, however, and can penetrate the body to form an image on film.

Structures that are dense (such as silver fillings or metal restoration) will block most of the photons and will appear white on developed film. Structures containing air will be black on film, and teeth, tissue, and fluid will appear as shades of gray.




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