Common Dental Terms

Oral Health

Abscess — An abscess occurs when the pulp (the nerve tissue inside the tooth and the root of the tooth) dies and becomes inflamed. This will often leave your mouth feeling achy, and you may have swollen gums or experience pain while chewing. You must see an endodontist who specializes in treating infected teeth and pulp as soon as possible.

Acidic Foods — Acidic foods and drinks contain high levels of acid that wear down your teeth, causing decay, sensitivity and discoloring. Common acidic foods include coffee, soda, wine, candy and lemons.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay — Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is commonly referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, but the correct term for it is early childhood caries (cavities). Liquids such as milk, formula, breast milk and fruit juice often sit in a child’s mouth during nap time with a baby bottle in hand. Having liquid sit for a long period of time in a child’s mouth creates the perfect environment for cavities. To help prevent decay, be sure to clean and massage your baby’s gums once a day and after they eat.

Baby Teeth — Baby teeth are critical to your child’s health and development. Most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they are 3 years old. You should begin to take your child to the dentist when the first tooth comes in and no later than their first birthday.

Cardiovascular Disease — Cardiovascular diseases are diseases related to the heart, also known as heart disease.

Caffeine — Caffeine is a stimulant that energizes the body and is in tea, coffee, energy drinks and sodas. Dentists recommend not drinking caffeinated drinks before an appointment if you have dental anxiety.

Caries — Caries is the term dentists use to describe cavities. A cavity is the destruction of your tooth enamel (the hard, outer layer of your teeth) and must be treated by a dentist before more serious problems occur.

Cavity — Cavity is the term used to describe tooth decay and is preventable. A cavity occurs when bacteria grow in the film on your teeth and turn sugars into acid. This can break down your tooth’s enamel (the hard outer layer of your teeth) and the layers underneath.

Cuspid — A cuspid is a tooth with a single point, also called a canine, and is one of your front teeth.

Dentin — Dentin is the second layer of the tooth (beneath the enamel) that protects the nerve. When enamel no longer covers dentin, it can cause tooth sensitivity.

Diabetes — Diabetes is a group of diseases resulting in too much sugar in the blood (high blood glucose).

Disease — A disease is an illness that produces specific symptoms and/or affects a specific location of the body.

Fluoride — Fluoride is a natural mineral found in water that helps prevent cavities by making the entire tooth surface more resistant to decay.

Gingivitis — Gingivitis is a common form of gum disease, causing irritation, redness, and inflammation of your gums around the base of your teeth.

Halitosis — Halitosis is chronic bad breath. Unlike morning breath, halitosis remains for an extended amount of time and may be a sign of something more serious.

Inflammation — Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself. For example, when you have a cut, the area will become red. Inflammation in your mouth will have similar symptoms – your gums will become red, swollen and/or bleed. When inflammation in the mouth does not go away, it can lead to gum disease.

Molars — Molars or molar teeth are large, flat teeth at the back of the mouth.

Oral Bacteria — Oral bacteria are tiny organisms that live in your mouth. Good bacteria protect your teeth and gums while bad bacteria cause tooth decay and gum disease.

Periodontal Disease — “Peri” means around, and “odontal” refers to teeth. Periodontal diseases are infections around the teeth, also known as gum disease. Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease.

Plaque — Plaque is a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth and contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria in plaque causes tooth decay and gum disease if it is not regularly removed through brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist.

Pulp — The pulp is a network of nerves, blood vessels, and tissues in the hollow center of the tooth.

Tartar — Tartar is plaque that has hardened on your teeth. It can also form underneath and at the gumline and can irritate gum tissue.

Tooth Enamel — Tooth enamel is made up of minerals covering the outer layer of each tooth. Enamel protects against tooth decay, and it is very important to prevent it from eroding.

Dental Services

Crown — A crown is a tooth-shaped cover placed over a repaired tooth or a lost portion of its structure. Many people refer to a crown as a “cap.”

Dentures — Dentures are a removable set of teeth that can make it easier to eat and speak.

Denture Relines — Relining is a type of denture repair. New dentures are made specifically for your gums. As time goes by, your gum tissues change, and dentures become loose and start to move inside your mouth. Having your denture relined keeps the denture secure.

Filling — A filling is what your dentist gives you to help restore a decayed or damaged tooth. The dentist will first remove the decay and clean the area and then fill the cleaned-out cavity with a filling material.

Fluoride Treatment and Supplements — Minerals are lost when acids, caused by bacteria, start to dissolve a tooth’s enamel (the hard, outer layer of your teeth). Fluoride treatments are applied to the outside of teeth. Fluoride supplements are digestible tablets. Both types of fluoride strengthen teeth and protect against decay.

Fluoride Varnish — Fluoride varnish is a pale-yellow gel that has a pleasant taste and fruity smell and is put on a child’s teeth using a soft brush to help protect against tooth decay.

Full or Partial Dentures — Dentures are a removable set of teeth that can make it easier to eat and speak. There are two main types of dentures: full and partial. Your dentist will help you choose the type of denture best for you.

Molar Sealants — Sealants are liquid coatings painted on the chewing surface of teeth to prevent tooth decay. They harden into the grooves of your teeth, forming a shield over each tooth.

Root Canal — A root canal is the process of removing the damaged area of a tooth. The tooth is then disinfected, filled and sealed. Root canals are used to repair and save your tooth instead of removing it.

Scaling and Root Planing — Scaling and root planing is a cleaning to remove plaque and tartar that has created spaces between your gums and teeth. This cleaning helps remove bacterial toxins found in those deep spaces to help prevent periodontal disease.

Teeth Cleaning — A dentist and/or a hygienist cleans your teeth with several tools specially made to remove plaque and tartar in a process called scaling. They will finish up by polishing and flossing your teeth.

Tooth Removal — If a tooth is broken or damaged by decay, your dentist will try to fix it with a filling, crown or other treatment. Sometimes, though, there’s too much damage for the tooth to be repaired. In this case, the tooth needs to be removed.

X-Ray — An X-ray is a common imaging test used to help your dentist see your entire tooth including the root within the gums. X-rays help diagnose and treat tooth and gum conditions.

The Dental Industry

Dental Home — A dental home is a dental office where you and your child feel safe and comfortable going to. Regular visits allow you and your child to develop trust with the dental staff and reduce fear. It also gives the dentist a better chance to catch problems early on.

Dental Screening — An oral screening is when a dentist helps direct the patient to the appropriate service by screening for three things: those who do not have visible dental problems; those who need to see a dentist soon for diagnosis and treatment; and those who must see a dentist immediately.

Dental Specialist — A dental specialist provides specialty care in one field such as endodontics, oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, periodontics or orthodontics.

Hygienist — A dental hygienist provides preventive oral care under a dentist’s supervision. They clean a patient’s teeth and examine for signs of disease.

Endodontist — An endodontist treats disease and injuries of the pulp (the nerve tissue inside the tooth) and at the root of the tooth.

Medi-Cal Dental Dentist — A dentist that is approved to provide dental services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Oral Surgeon — An oral surgeon limits their practice to diagnosing and surgically treating diseases, injuries, defects, and appearances of the mouth, jaw and face.

Orthodontist — An orthodontist focuses primarily on the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of crooked teeth and the jaw’s position.

Pediatric Dentist — A pediatric dentist focuses on children from birth through adolescence, providing a full range of preventive care treatment.

Periodontist — A periodontist limits their practice to treating diseases of the gums and tissue around the teeth.

Prosthodontist — A prosthodontist specializes in replacing missing teeth with dentures, bridges, implants or other substitutes.

Provider — A provider is an individual dentist, a dental group, a dental school or dental clinic enrolled in The Medi-Cal Program. They provide health care and dental services to people covered by Medi-Cal.

Dental Benefits

Beneficiary — A person enrolled in Medi-Cal is called a beneficiary or a member.

Beneficiary Identification Card (BIC) — The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) provides an identification card for beneficiaries known as BIC. This card shows your ID number, name, gender, date of birth and the issue date of the card.

Covered Services — The set of dental services that are a benefit of The Medi-Cal Dental Program.

Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) Program — EPSDT is a Medi-Cal benefit for individuals under the age of 21 who have full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility. This benefit allows for screenings to determine health care needs. Based on the healthcare need, treatment services are provided. EPSDT services include all services covered by Medi-Cal and other services deemed medically necessary.

Eligibility — Eligibility refers to meeting the requirements set up by the Medi-Cal Program to receive Medi-Cal benefits, including covered dental services.

Emergency Services — The need for dental emergency services may be the result of damage to the mouth or infection. Damage may cause bleeding, and lacerations to the gums, and/or dislodged or fractured teeth. Your dentist should be the first person you call if you have a dental emergency. Most dentists set aside time for emergency procedures. Be sure to keep your dentist’s after-hours contact information readily available at all times. Medi-Cal covers emergency services for pain control.

Types of Medi-Cal Benefits —

  • Full Scope Medi-Cal Benefits: Eligible to receive all dental treatments, within Medi-Cal Dental program limitations.
  • Limited Scope Medi-Cal Benefits: Limited scope benefits is the term used to describe the number of services allowed and the type of services allowed.
  • Regional Center Consumers Medi-Cal Benefits: Regional centers are non-profit private corporations that contract with the Department of Developmental Services to provide services for individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • Residing in a Facility (SNF/ICF) Medi-Cal Benefits: An adult residential facility for persons with special health care needs.

Medi-Cal Dental Program — This program oversees and monitors the administration of the Medi-Cal dental benefit and statewide beneficiary utilization and provider participation.

Medically Necessary — Dental services must be medically necessary and be covered services to be paid for by the Medi-Cal DentaI program. Your dentist will ask for prior authorization from Medi-Cal for dental services that must be preauthorized before treatment is started. Your dentist will tell you whether a service is covered or not.

Outpatient Services — Most dental procedures or tests are outpatient services and are done without an overnight stay.

Prior Authorization — Prior authorization is a request by a dentist to approve services before they are done. The dentist will receive a Notice of Authorization (NOA) from Medi-Cal Dental if the service is approved.

Treatment Authorization Request (TAR) — TAR is a request submitted by a Medi-Cal dentist for approval of certain covered services before treatment can begin. A TAR is required for certain services and under special circumstances.