Basic Dental Terminology New Dental Assistants Should Know

Basic Dental Terminology New Dental Assistants Should Know

As dental assistants, there are basic dental terminology you should know. As you begin your career, you’ll see some vocabulary you’ve learned in dental assistant school and specialty or facility-specific terms. Many of these dental assistant terminologies include dental procedures, billing terms, and others that allow you to communicate with patients, coworkers, and dentists. 

We compiled a list of terminology that new dental assistants may use during their dental careers, including standard dental procedures. 

Nitrous Oxide

It’s known as “laughing gas.” It’s also colorless and has a mild smell. Dentists administer nitrous oxide as an inhale anesthetic for oral surgeries and other general procedures. 

Maxilla and Mandible

The maxilla(two upper) and mandible (lower and largest and strongest bone in the face)  jawbone form the mouth structure and hold up teeth and sinus cavity.


One of the four major tissues that make up the tooth covers the outer layer of each tooth.  It protects the teeth from decaying by forming a strong barrier that protects your teeth’ inner layers from acid and plaque effects.


Money that patients must pay to use dental services before insurance, medicare, and other plans pay benefits.


A calcified connective tissue that covers the anatomic root of a tooth

Bite Wing

A dental radiograph(x-rays) that show both the upper and lower teeth on the same sheet. 

 Tooth Impaction

A tooth that cannot break the surface of the gum, i.e., wisdom teeth. Patients often have surgery to remove an impacted tooth because it can cause pain in the mouth.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

The HIPPA is a federal law that requires protection and confidential handling of an individual’s health information. The HIPAA reduces health care fraud and abuse and mandates industry-wide standards for caring for and processing health care information. 

Note: Dental assistants should know the rules and regulations of HIPPA laws and ensure patient information protection.


Gingivitis is the inflammation and bleeding of the gums.


A large tooth (teeth)  at the back of the mouth, surrounded by a large surface area, helps the tooth chew and grind, i.e., food. 


A dental implant is a titanium rod that a dentist surgically places in the patent’s mouth. The rods hold teeth, bridges, and dentures in place.

Flexible Spending Account

A special account where you put money in and use it to pay for out-of-pocket health care costs.


The payment patient owes after insurance or benefit plans have paid the dentist fee.

Balance Billing

When a dental office bills a patient, the difference between the dental visit charges, and the amount reimbursed under the patient’s dental plan. 


A suture is stitching for cuts and wounds. 

Dental Procedure Terminology Dental Assistants Should know: 

Here are four standard procedures and terminology new dental assistants might come across. 

Root Canal

A root canal or an endodontic treatment is when the endodontist removes the infected pulp and nerve in the tooth’s root, clean, and shapes the inside of the root canal. The dentist will place a crown on the tooth to protect it from infections.

A dentist may perform the procedure when the inside of the patient’s tooth becomes infected because of decay, cracked tooth, etc.  

Flap (Periodontics) Surgery

Flap surgery is performed to stop the progression of gum disease. A dentist will make an incision or shift the gums and temporarily pulling tissue.


The removal of a severely damaged tooth from the dental socket (alveolus) often because of disease, decay, or overcrowding. Dental assistants may assist with extraction by explaining the procedure and post-surgery regimen.


Microabrasion (enamel microabrasion) is teeth whitening. The procedure is performed to remove discoloration from the patient’s teeth and improve appearance. 

There’s more dental assistant terminology you will come across. It helps to learn and review them during your first year. Understanding these dental terminologies will help you help your patients and coworkers and succeed as a dental assistant. 

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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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