Dental Dictionary for Patients

Before You Go...

Most patients are familiar with the general dentist.  The general dentist is educated to provide comprehensive services from dental examinations to dental surgery.  While most dental procedures can be provided by the general dentist, a patient may be referred to a specialist if the general dentist believes special expertise is necessary. 

The American and California Dental Associations (ADA & CDA) recognize these nine types of specialists:

Endodontist - Deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and injuries of the internal soft tissue of the tooth (root canals).

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon (OMS) - Treats injuries and deformities, extracts teeth and performs surgery of the mouth, jaw and face.

Orthodontist - Prescribes and places corrective devises, such as braces, to align teeth and improve health and appearance.

Pediatric Dentist - Specializes in the dental health of children from birth through adolescence.

Periodontist - Treats diseases of the gums.

Prosthodontist - Designs and fits bridge-work and dentures.

Public Health Specialist - Coordinates and administers community-wide dental care programs, including public education on the prevention of dental disease.

Oral & Maxillofacial Radiologist - Uses imaging and associated technology for diagnosis and management of a range of diseases affecting the mouth, jaw and related are of the head and neck.

Oral Pathologist - Researches the causes, development and effects of oral diseases.


Members of the Dental Team – Who Does What

The Dentist The dentist is responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in the dental office.  Only the licensed dentist is educated and trained to diagnose dental problems, plan treatment or prescribe medications.  As long as the licensed dentist supervises, certain phases of dental treatment may be delegated to other members of the dental team.

The Dental Hygienist The dental hygienist cleans teeth and performs other functions under the direction and supervision of a licensed dentist.  There are two categories of dental hygienist:

  1. Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH
  2. Registered Dental Hygienist in Extended Functions (RDHEF)

Dental Assistant Under the supervision of the licensed dentist, the job of the dental assistant is to help the dentist including taking of x-rays and performing other support functions.  There are three categories of dental assistant:

  1. Dental Assistant (DA)
  2. Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
  3. Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF)

Dental Office Administrative Staff - Staff members employed in administrative positions are often the public’s first contact with a dental practice. Responsibilities may include telephone communication, appointment scheduling, insurance claims management, financial arrangements and collections, treatment plan presentations, personnel management, and practice marketing. Larger practices often have several administrators who specialize in these various duties.

Dental Laboratory Technician - A dental laboratory technician makes dental prostheses, which are replacements for natural teeth to help people eat, chew, talk or smile.  Technicians are valuable members of the dental care team although they rarely work directly with patients. They receive instruction from dentists by following written instructions and using impressions (molds) of the patient’s teeth or soft tissue to create full dentures, crowns, bridges or orthodontic appliances. They often perform much of their work without close supervision.



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