Dr. Kim's Blog

Posted on by Kim Okamura DDS

Dental Terminology: What Your Dentist is Really Saying

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dentist speaking with patient during appointment

After getting your teeth cleaned and polished by a dental hygienist, the dentist will come in to examine your teeth. To many patients, it is hard to follow along with what happens next as your dentist begins rattling off alphanumeric jargon. Dr. Kim Okamura wants you to feel more prepared in following along with what your dentist is really saying while using dental terminology.  Here’s a basic guide to understanding dental lingo, especially what the numbers and letters discussed during your exam mean.

What the Numbers and Letters Mean

When dentists and dental hygienists talk about numbers and letters as they peer into your mouth, they are identifying specific teeth. Using a coding system of letters and numbers allows dentists to specify which teeth have visual decay or other issues. If you listen to your dentist, you can learn a great deal about how well you are taking care of your teeth during your oral hygiene routine.

Numbers. The tooth farthest back on the right side of your mouth in the upper jaw is considered tooth number one. The next tooth is number two and so on until reaching the last upper tooth. Numbering continues with the rear-most tooth on the lower left side.

Letters. If your dentist attaches a letter to a number, this often refers to the side or surface area of a tooth. “M” stands for mesial, which is a medical term for the front of a tooth. “D” stands for distal, or the rear side of a tooth. Other letters are used to describe the different surfaces of a tooth.

Numbering Your Gums

Gum disease is one of the most frequent issues that dentists see. The health of your gums is defined by shorthand terminology. One of the measurements used to gauge your gums is the gap between the pocket of your gum and the near-by tooth. Each of your teeth will receive a number for its gum gap.

Low Gum Numbers

As a patient, you want to hear a smaller number. That means that you have a smaller gap between the tooth and gum, a sign of a healthy mouth. When your distance says that your gums are 1 to 3 millimeters in diameter, what they’re really saying is that you have healthy gums. A low number is a sign that you brush and floss regularly, generally taking great care of your teeth.

High Gum Numbers

A larger number is worrisome. A larger number indicates that you have gum issues such as plaque and tartar buildup. Patients with this sort of gap between teeth and gums have likely gone a while between dental cleanings. Inflammation naturally occurs in such situations. A gum number of five millimeters or higher is an issue. Your dentist may warn you that you’re in the early signs of periodontal disease or possibly bone loss.

Follow Along During Your Next Exam

Using this information, dentists can quickly notate which teeth have issues that need to be addressed and the severity of the correction required. Now that you understand the dental numbering and letter system, pay close attention during your next exam. You may even find yourself learning a lot about the current state of your teeth just by listening along.

Challenge yourself to learn more about the state of your teeth during your next cleaning and exam with Kim Okamura DDS. Even if you get a little lost, we will be happy to explain everything to you during your exam. Call today to schedule your next appointment.


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Published in Blog
Dr. Kim Okamura Welcome to my blog! This blog is a product of my love of dentistry. I dedicate it to all the patients I have served so that they may better understand my craft. The information here will give you and others the power to maintain and protect one of your most priceless gifts ... your SMILE. Happy reading!