Glossary of Dental Assisting Terms

Abscess – A localized area of  fluid that has exuded out of a tissue or its capillaries due to injury or inflammation due to an infection.

Accounts Payable – Any financial obligation, expense, or debt owed, typically by a business.  In a dentist office accounts payable might include payroll, dental supplies, lab fees, rent, insurance, taxes, etc.  Accounts payable is considered a liability in accounting.

Accounts Receivable – Includes all monies owed to a person or business, such as unpaid bills for services to patients or insurance companies.  Accounts receivable is considered an asset in accounting.

Acid Etch – A phosphoric acid used in bonding procedures that encourages the enamel rods and dentinal tubules to open in order for the restorative material to bond

Aged Accounts – Balances owed to the dental office that are categorized based on how long the balance has been outstanding, or unpaid.  They are generally grouped in 30 day increments (30 days late, 60 days, 90 days, and over 90 days.

Alloy – Mixture of two or more metals

Aluminum Filter – Filter in the X-Ray tube head that absorbs the longer wave, less penetrating radiation

Alveolar Process – Bone that supports the maxillary teeth

Alveolitis – Inflammation and Infection associated with the disturbance of a blood clot after extraction of an impacted tooth

Amalgam – An alloy combined with mercury as a restoration material.  Considered unsafe by some and use is controversial

Ameloblasts – Cells that form enamel

Ameloclasts – Cells that absorb enamel

Anatomic Crown – The portion of the tooth that is covered by enamel.

Anesthetic – Medicine that produces temporary loss of sensation or feeling.  Can be localized to one specific area.

Antiseptic – A chemical agent that can be applied to living tissues to destroy or inhibit micro organisms

Apex – The tip of a tooth’s root

Asepsis – Disease free

Autoclave – A device used to sterilize equipment and supplies by subjecting them to high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C for around 15–20 minutes depending on the size of the load and the contents

Base – Bases can be considered as restorative substitutes for the dentin that was removed by caries and/or the cavity preparation. They act as a barrier against chemical irritation, provide thermal insulation, and can resist the condensation forces on a tooth when placing a restoration.

Bioburden – The number of contaminating bacteria on a certain amount of material before it is sterilized.

Biohazard –  Biological substances that pose a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans. This can include medical waste or samples of a microorganism, virus or toxin (from a biological source) that can affect human health.

Biologic Indicators (BI) – Spore test strips that contain harmless bacterial spores that are used to determine whether sterilization has been reached

Biopsy – Removal of tissue for diagnostic purposes

Biteblock Styrofoam – 1. in intraoral radiography, a film holder that the patient bites to provide stable retention of the film packet. n 2. occlusion rim. n 3. a commercially available device, usually made of rubber, which can be used to prop open a patient’s mouth during a prolonged treatment session.

Bitewing Radiograph – A film that shows images of the crowns, coronal thirds of the roots, and crestal bone levels of both maxillary and mandibular teeth in occlusion.  Bitewing X-rays show the upper and lower back teeth and how the teeth touch each other in a single view. These X-rays are used to check for decay between the teeth and to show how well the upper and lower teeth line up. They also show bone loss when severe gum disease or a dental infection is present.

Blood-borne pathogens – Disease causing organisms transferred through the blood or other bodily fluids

Buccal – The surface of posterior teeth closest to the cheek

Calculus – Hardened plaque that adheres to the enamel

Carcinoma – Malignant tumor in epithelial tissue

Caries – Dental decay is an infection, bacterial in origin, that causes demineralization and destruction of the hard tissues of the teeth (enamel, dentin and cementum). It is a result of the production of acid by bacterial fermentation of food debris accumulated on the tooth surface.[

Cavity – Pitted area of a tooth caused by decay

Cementoblasts – Cells that form or produce cementum

Cementoclasts – Cells that absorb cementum

Cementum – The thin layer of bonelike material covering the roots of the teeth.  Cementum is yellowish and softer than either dentine or enamel.  It is made by a layer of cementum-producing cells (cementoblasts) adjacent to the dentine.

CDA – Certified Dental Assistant.  A certification achieved by passing all three components of the Dental Assisting National Board Exam, including Infection Control, Radiation Health and Safety, and General Chairside.

Chemical Vapor Sterilization / Chemiclave – A method / machine that sterilizes surgical instruments with high-pressure, high-temperature water, alcohol, formaldehyde vapor.

Cidal Agents – A chemical that kills micro organisms – for example germicidal, bactericidal, fungicidal

Cingulum – Raised, rounded area on cervical third of lingual surfaces of anterior teeth

CODA – The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), accredits dental schools as well as advanced dental education programs in the United States. CODA was established in 1975 and is nationally recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) as the sole agency to accredit dental and dental-related education programs conducted at the post-secondary level.

Composite – A tooth-colored, resin based restoration material

Coronal Polish – Burnishingor polishing of the anatomic crowns of the teeth to remove dental biofilm and extrinsic stains; process does not involve calculus removal.

Critical Instruments – Any instrument used to penetrate soft tissue or bone

Crossbite – A condition in which a tooth is not properly aligned with its opposing tooth

Cross Contamination – Passage of micro organisms from one person to another, or an inanimate object to a person

Current Dental Terminology (CDT) – A listing of all current dental procedure codes and descriptions of dental procedures, published by the American Dental Association (ADA)

Cusp –  A pointed or rounded projection on the chewing surface of a tooth.

Custom Acrylic Provisional – Provides protection for the tooth from the time of preparation until the final crown is cemented.  Can be used to assist with the healing process, design for the permanent crown, maintaining space for the final restoration, and serves as a functional tooth while waiting for the permanent crown.

Demineralization – Reduction of mineral substances in tissue or organism, such demineralization of teeth. Demineralization can lead to serious diseases such as tooth decay.

Dental Practice Act – The legal scope of dental practice and the requirements necessary to practice dentistry as defined by each state.  Generally includes allowable duties of dental assistants, and the type of supervision required by the employing dentist for each task.

Dentin – The second and largest layer of the tooth that is capable of rebuilding itself.

Direct Supervision – Level of supervision by the employing dentist where the dental assistant is permitted to perform certain tasks or functions only when the dentist is physically present

Disposables – Single use items

Dry Heat Sterilization – Using heated air to sterilize instruments

Embrasure – The sloped valley between adjacent teeth

Enamel – Protective outer layer of the tooth

Endodontics – The dental specialty that diagnoses, treats, and helps with the prevention of diseases of the dental pulp.  Root canal therapy is one of the most common procedures performed by endodontists.

Eruption – The natural process of a tooth coming into the mouth

Etchant – A chemical that prepares the tooth surface to receive a restorative material

Four-handed Dentistry – Four-handed dentistry refers to a dental technique whereby a dental assistant or dental hygienist works alongside a dentist at the same time. This method was instituted to quicken the process and reduce fatigue both for the patient and the dental professionals.  Both the dentist and assistant may have one, or both hands, near or within the mouth of a patient at the same moment. Instruments need to be passed swiftly to the dentist, and then back to the dental assistant during oral surgery, and four-handed dentistry accomplishes this more effectively.

General Supervision – Level of supervision by the dentist that gives permission to a dental assistant to perform certain duties without the dentist being present.

Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gum tissue in response to bacterial biofilms, or plaque, adhered to tooth surfaces. In the absence of treatment, gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, which is a destructive form of periodontal disease.

Glossitis – Inflammation of the tongue that causes it to swell in size, change into different shades of red, and develop a smooth appearance on the surface.

Gutta Percha – A tough plastic substance from the latex of several Malaysian trees (genera Payena and Palaquium) of the sapodilla family (Sapotaceae) that resembles rubber but contains more resin and is used in dentistry especially as a permanent filling in root canals.

Halitosis – Noticeably unpleasant odor of bad breath, most commonly caused by bacteria below the gum line and on the back of the tongue

Hematoma – a mass of usually clotted blood that forms in a tissue, organ, or body space as a result of a broken blood vessel

Implant – a titanium screw placed into a healthy bone to replace a missing tooth

Incipient caries – beginning stage of decay – The earliest sign of a new carious lesion is the appearance of a chalky white spot on the surface of the tooth, indicating an area of demineralization of enamel. This is referred to as a white spot lesion, an incipient carious lesion or a “microcavity.”

Inflammation – Redness, irritation, and possible swelling due to the presence of an irritant.

Interproximal – The “in-between” surfaces of the teeth.

Iodophor – An iodophor is a combination of iodine and a solubilizing agent or carrier; the resulting complex provides a sustained-release reservoir of iodine and releases small amounts of free iodine in aqueous solution. Iodophors retain the germicidal efficacy of iodine but unlike iodine generally are nonstaining and relatively free of toxicity and irritancy.  Besides their use as an antiseptic, iodophors have been used for disinfecting blood culture bottles and medical equipment, such as hydrotherapy tanks, thermometers, and endoscopes. Antiseptic iodophors are not suitable for use as hard-surface disinfectants.

Lingual – The surface of the teeth closest to the tongue.

Lingual Frenum – The band of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

Malocclusion – Occlusion that is deviated from normal.

Maxillary – The upper jaw

Microleakage – An area between the filling or sealant and the tooth structure where bacteria are trapped.

National Practitioner Data Bank – A centralized agency that holds information regarding paid malpractice claims and licensure issues

Negligence – Failure to take the care that a reasonably prudent person would take in a similar situation.  Conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.

Nitrous Oxide – At room temperature, it is a colourless, non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anaesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as “laughing gas” due to the euphoric effects of inhaling it.

Occlusal – The biting surface of posterior teeth.

Occlusal X-rays – Show the roof or floor of the mouth, and are used to find extra teeth, teeth that have not yet broken through the gums, jaw fractures, a cleft in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), cysts, abscesses, or growths.  They may also be used to find a foreign object.

Occlusion – The natural contact of the maxillary and mandibular teeth in all positions.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – A regulatory agency of the government that operates on federal and state levels to protect the employee.  It creates regulations that must be adhered to in a dental practice.

Orthodontics – Dental specialty that focuses on prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusions

Osseo integration – The acceptance of the bone to the newly placed implant

Panoramic X-rays – Show a broad view of the jaws, teeth, sinuses, nasal area, and temporomandibular (jaw) joints. These X-rays do not find cavities. These X-rays do show problems such as impacted teeth, bone abnormalities, cysts, solid growths (tumors), infections, and fractures.

Pedodontics – The branch of dentistry that deals with the care and treatment of children’s teeth from birth through adolescence

Percutaneous – In a medical procedure where access is through the skin, such as with a needle puncture

Periapical X-rays  – Show the entire tooth, from the exposed crown to the end of the root and the bones that support the tooth. These X-rays are used to find dental problems below the gum line or in the jaw, such as   impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumors, and bone changes linked to some diseases.

Periodontal Disease – Infections of the gum or bone supporting the teeth

Periodontal Dressing – A dressing placed over the surgical site for protection while the tissue is healing

Periodontics – The specialty of dentistry that studies supporting structures of teeth, as well as diseases and conditions that affect them. The supporting tissues of the mouth include the periodontium, which includes the gingiva (gums), alveolar bone, cementum, and the periodontal ligament

Pit and Fissure Sealants – A sealant or protective layer that is applied to the uneven surfaces and creases of the tooth (called the pits and fissures) to prevent cavities from developing in hard to brush areas

Plaque – Soft, sticky substance (biofilm) that adheres to enamel.  Formed by colonizing bacteria.

Polymerization – The hardening process of light sensitive materials

Process Indicators – Tapes, strips, or tabs with heat-sensitive chemicals that change color when exposed to certain temperatures

Prophy Paste – An abrasive paste used to polish stains from the coronal portion of the teeth

Prosthodontics – The dental specialty that provides restoration and replacement of natural teeth

Provisional – A temoporary crown worn while the permanent crown is being fabricated

Pulp – The nerve and blood vessel center of the tooth, made up of living connective tissue and cells called odontoblasts

Quadrant – One of four sections of the mouth

Remineralization –  A process in which minerals are returned to the molecular structure of the tooth

Sarcoma – A malignant tumor in muscle or bone

Sealant – Thin resin film applied to the pits and fissures of molars and premolars to prevent tooth decay

Six-handed Dentistry – Practice of dentistry with one dentist being assisted by two dental assistants.

Subgingival – Under or beneath the gums

Sublingual – Under the tongue

Supragingival – Above the gum line

Supine – A lying down position of the body with the face up

Viscosity – Thickness of a liquid

Xerostomia – Dry mouth, reduced saliva