8 Dental Terms You’ve Probably Heard but Never Understood

Throughout your life, you’ve probably heard a bunch of words at your dental appointments that made no sense. This is totally understandable. Dentists use a lot of medical terms that wouldn’t come up in conversations outside a dental office. Today we’re introducing a 2-part series on all the dental terms you’ve probably heard but never understood. 


Let's dive in!


(pronounced like al-leh-graft) 


An allograft is a type of bone graft that uses bone taken from human cadaver tissue. This highly-routine procedure builds up the jawbone so an implant can be placed. It is used specifically for those who suffer from insufficient bone due to an existing disease. This procedure will help ensure that the patient has proper support for their new implant.


Ankylosis (dental)

(pronounced like ankle-ohsis)


Baby teeth are supposed to be replaced by adult teeth, but sometimes that process goes awry. According to Colgate, dental ankylosis is a rare condition where “baby teeth fuse to a nearby bone.” This fusion prevents the tooth from being able to loosen up (and eventually fall out). While it can affect adult teeth, it’s commonly seen in kids who still have their baby teeth. This condition is usually discovered when a person’s baby teeth fail to come out at a normal age.


Calculus (dental)

(pronounced like calculus, the branch of mathematics)


Dental calculus (also known as tartar) starts when your saliva produces a sticky film called plaque. This plaque gets harder and harder over time, thus turning into a crusty buildup called calculus. Bacteria love to colonize on calculus and cause tooth and gum problems. Calculus can cause serious concerns for your oral health such as cavities, tooth decay, and even gum disease. 

A fun fact to remember is that once tartar/calculus has formed on your teeth, only a dental professional can remove it. So make sure to keep your dental checkups every six months, and brush and floss your teeth every single day!

Adult Dentition

Adult dentition is basically a fancy way of referring to your permanent teeth. It refers to the 32 permanent teeth you have  after losing your baby teeth (primary detention). There are 16 on top and 16 on bottom (which are commonly known as arches). You have a total of 8 teeth in each quadrant, with two incisors, a canine, two premolars, and three molars. Each tooth is numbered, which is why you may have heard your hygienist or dentist refer to a specific tooth as a number during an appointment.

Alveolar Bone

(pronounced like ah-vee-eler)

The alveolar bone is the part of the mandibular and maxillary bone which surrounds the teeth and forms the tooth sockets. The alveolar bone is the part of the maxilla and mandible that supports the teeth and forms the socket of each tooth. It basically holds the roots of your teeth in place. According to Colgate, it is “vital to your teeth’s arrangement and the function of your periodontal ligament (PDL).” Because gum disease can cause damage to your jawbone, it’s important to keep your oral health in tip top shape. This includes maintaining a daily at-home care routine, as well as visiting your dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning.


(pronounced like bye-cuss-pid)

Bicuspid teeth are the teeth located between your molars and your canines. They help us bite down and chew food. They typically come in during the early teenage years, and many dentists recommend applying sealants to these teeth to help prevent decay.


(pronounced like buckle)

The buccal is the outer surface of your back teeth that face your cheek.

Dental Prophylaxis

(pronounced like pro-fuh-lak-sis)

Want to impress the front office when you call to make a dental checkup appointment? Tell them you want to make a “dental prophylaxis” appointment! This fancy term simply means any procedure that promotes your oral health, or is preventative against dental disease. This can include anything from a dental check-up to getting sealants that help protect the teeth from cavities.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Dental Terms You’ve Probably Heard But Never Understood series!

PS: When was the last time you and your family came in for a checkup? Give us a call today to schedule (804) 794-4588.