Going to the Dentist: Knowledge Is Power

Posted on Oct 26th 2016 by Robert Lewando, D.D.S.

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When we’re at the dentist’s office, sometimes it can sound like they’re speaking a different language! Let’s brush up on some of the official terms for our pearly whites. 

What most of us call our baby teeth are known as deciduous, or primary teeth. And our adult teeth are labeled as permanent teeth. Easy enough, right? The real complication comes when dental professionals start naming specific teeth and their surfaces. Let’s see if we are able to uncomplicate things a bit.

The chisel-shaped teeth (flat on the front and back with very thin sides) in the front of your mouth are called incisors. We have eight altogether: four on top and four on bottom. These teeth mainly grab and cut food—that is, of course, when we aren’t using them to break into bags of candy or ketchup packets. The cuspids—those pointy teeth we call canines—are on either side of your upper and lower incisors. These four (two on top, two on bottom) teeth tear and shred food and are usually the strongest. If you are a meat eater, these may be your favorite teeth. Next in line are the bicuspids, or premolars. Two sit right beside each of your cuspids, and they work like the cuspids—they tear, shred, and crush food. Last but not least are the molars—our 12 grinding teeth in the very back of our mouth on top and bottom. Our molars include four wisdom teeth, which most of us have removed at some point in our 20s.

So why see a dentist and talk about all these teeth we have? Because we want to prevent cavities, also known in the medical field as caries. Caries is sometimes referred to by class. Assigned a number 1 to 5, it notes the location on the surface of the tooth. What we think of as the front of our tooth—facing our cheek—is known as buccal. The back side of the tooth is called the lingual surface and faces our tongue. The occlusal or incisal surfaces are used to bite or grind when chewing.

Now that we know the names of specific teeth and their general location, we will be able to follow the conversation when our dentist starts talking about caries or decay on one of our cuspids in the upper left quadrant.

Knowing all these terms won’t keep us from needing dental work. But knowledge is power, which helps us ask the right questions and be more involved in any treatment plan we might need.


Filed under: Education  


Robert Lewando, D.D.S.

Bob Lewando is a periodontist and works with the Florida Blue Dental Program. He has an interest in the connection between oral and overall health and has tried to develop dental plans for patients that will try to keep them healthy. Bob enjoys outdoor activity such as hiking, bicycling, or attempting to garden.

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