Dental Health

You are sitting in the chair at your dental appointment and hear one of us start spitting out a bunch of letters and numbers “MO on 5..” or “additional PA on 22.” Are you feeling confused yet?

You may hear our staff talking and feel like you don’t understand what we are saying at all. Dental terminology is like its own language and we have to speak it in order to get you in and out the door so that you can get back to your busy life! We also really want to be thorough in charting and documenting your oral health, and this sort of shorthand lingo and abbreviation system helps us do that. Dentists have a chart that uses numbers to help us make notations of healthy and problem teeth. If you listen, you’ll learn a great deal about the current state of your dental hygiene.   

Here are a few really common terms that you may hear during your visit that will help keep you in the know.


Numbers – If it is between 1-32 it is probably referring to a tooth. Check out the graphic for this article to understand which tooth corresponds with which number. If it is during a hygiene appointment it might instead be referring to your gum health. The gap between the pocket of your gum and the nearby tooth is measured in millimeters (from 1-5). Low numbers 1-3 mean you have healthy gums.


Letters – The letters O, I, M, D, B, P, and L, are abbreviations for each of the different surfaces of your tooth.   

  • Occlusal – biting surface of tooth
  • Incisal – sharp edge of front tooth
  • Mesial – surface of tooth nearest the middle of your mouth
  • Distal – surface of tooth furthest from the middle of your mouth
  • Buccal – surface of tooth nearest your cheek or lips
  • Palatal – surface of tooth nearest your palate
  • Lingual – surface of tooth nearest your tongue


Soft Tissues – This term includes the tongue, lips, cheeks, palate, and throat. I bet you didn’t even know that we checked some of those areas!

BOP – stands for Bleeding on Probing. Indicates gum inflammation in that area and can be a sign of an issue that needs attention.    

BW – stands for bitewings. A Type of X-ray.

PA – stands for Periapical. Another type of X-ray.


If you know even a few of these terms, you will understand what is happening during your office visit a lot better. By no means, is this an exhaustive list, but we want you to feel comfortable and in good hands while your in our office – we hope this list helps!

When was your last appointment…?

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