Questions You’re Too Shy to Ask the Dentist

What Do These Words & Numbers Mean” and Other Questions You’re Too Shy to Ask the Dentist

During your dental examination, you may see your dentist saying or doing certain things that may seem puzzling. If you’re always curious about some of the things we do to your teeth, but are too shy to ask, don’t worry – we answer some of them here:

“What do all the numbers and words you say mean when checking my mouth?”

We will take a dental record of your teeth by taking notes and charting them at your first dental checkup. This chart is a pictorial representation organising information about your teeth, letting us review your oral health quickly.

What about the numbers and words we mutter when checking your teeth, you may ask? Well, these refer to your teeth and their condition. These are part of the International Standards Organisation Designation System (ISO System) by the World Health Organisation to identify your teeth. Each tooth is assigned a 2-part number that tells us its location (left or right, up or down) and type (incisor, canine, premolar or molar, adult or baby).

To increase efficiency, we use acronyms as to shorten the information. For example, when your top right “fang” tooth has a white filling at the front extending from the left to right surface and silver filling at the back, we simply say “13 MBD TCR P AR”.  Imagine us saying “canine on upper right quadrant with mesial buccal distal surface tooth coloured restoration and palatal surface amalgam restoration” instead – it’ll be quite a mouthful!

“Why are you scratching my teeth during the check up? Will this damage them?”

Besides checking for visible changes, having physical contact with your teeth tells us about their condition. The “scratching” is caused by us scraping your teeth using a dental explorer.  Healthy teeth are strong enough not to get damaged by the “scratching”. Decayed teeth, however, are weakened and will feel softer to the touch by the explorer.

We will also check for rough or irregular surfaces on your teeth with the explorer as they indicate signs of early decay on your teeth, which may either require fillings or further assessment to evaluate the teeth’s condition.

“Why are you poking my gums? It hurts.”

A periodontal probe is frequently used to check the condition of your gums, especially if we suspect gum problems. Unhealthy gums are inflamed, and are usually red, swelling, bleeding, or painful. We will also gently feel your gums using the probe to measure the space under the gums and check for any bleeding. Prolonged gum problems will result in an increased gum space, gum recession, loss of bone supporting the tooth or a combination of those conditions, and causing loose teeth. If you are suffering from gum disease, having your gums probed may be a rather uncomfortable experience.

“Why are you doing so many things for a simple filling?”

Many steps are done to prepare the tooth to ensure the filling lasts. This includes:

  1. Isolating the tooth from saliva and blood contamination using cotton rolls and gauze. Strips of metal or plastic are also wrapped around your tooth as support to build up the shape of your tooth.
  2. Applying material to ensure the filling attaches to the tooth properly. For larger and deeper cavities, an insulating layer of material will be applied fist to help reduce irritation on the nerves.
  3. Contouring the filling so the tooth looks nice and works well, as well as making it comfortable for you. We will ask you to bite on a piece of coloured paper, which helps us find out areas of excessive filling. The excess is then smoothened away.

We may take longer if composite restorations are used. They are permanent tooth coloured fillings, which have the highest aesthetic value compared to other fillings, making it the most commonly used among dentists. This procedure is, however, also very technically demanding. We will take more time to ensure that the tooth is under ideal conditions for the composite filling to be placed.

Take care of your oral health and opt for regular dental check-ups.