Understanding Dental Terminology

Author: Dr. Rima Solanki, DMD

During your dental appointment, you may hear your dentist, dental hygienist or assistant call out, “buccal decay, mesial decay” to name a few and as a patient, you may wonder what the true meaning of those terms are. In adult dentition, there are 32 permanent teeth. Teeth numbers 1 to 16 are top teeth (maxillary arch) starting from top right to top left and teeth numbers 17 to 32 represent the bottom teeth (mandibular arch) starting from bottom left to bottom right. Teeth numbers 1, 16, 17 and 32 are classified as wisdom teeth. Furthermore, our teeth have a total of 5 surfaces that allow dentists to classify the extent of decay (cavity) for proper note taking as well as for treatment planning using the correct American Dental Association codes. Let’s learn about the different surfaces of the teeth and what they represent when you may hear certain terminology being called out during a patient exam.

1. Distal surface is away from the midline of face.

2. Mesial surface is closest to the midline of face.

3. Occlusal surface is chewing surface of back teeth and for the front teeth, they are
referred as Incisal edge.

4. Buccal surface is facing towards the cheeks for back teeth and for the front teeth, it is
referred as facial surface and is towards the lip.

5. Lingual surface is facing towards the tongue (mandibular arch) and Palatal surface is
facing towards the roof of the mouth (maxillary arch).