English vocabulary for going to the dentist

by Adriana Stein
January 23, 2021
female dentist at an appointment talking about english dental vocabulary and phrases

Learning the most common words and phrases to get help when you’re sick is one of the most important benefits of learning a language. When it comes to the dentist, not knowing what to say once you’re there and not understanding your dentist’s advice is especially frustrating – and even potentially life threatening! 

Don’t wait to develop a toothache to brush up on your English vocabulary for visiting the dentist. Most dentists recommend going for a routine dental check-up twice a year anyway, so you can practice using these words and phrases while your teeth are healthy. 

Vocab words and phrases you’ll need for a visit to the dentist

In case you need to visit a dentist, the following words and phrases help you describe your symptoms and understand the dentist’s instructions and recommendations.

Quick note: if you’re having trouble with other parts of your body and need to visit a doctor instead, take a look at this useful vocabulary for doctor’s visits.

Parts of your mouth

Your mouth has many parts with different medical names. Most of time when you visit the dentist, you’ll only speak about your teeth. However, to help you understand from a visual perspective, we’ve added this graphic of the mouth. These words are helpful when describing your symptoms or when understanding your dentist’s recommendations, especially if they slip into medical dental jargon.

parts of the mouth labelled

If you’re in doubt about the correct word to use, you can also just point to the area that hurts or feels uncomfortable and ask the dentist to look there (I actually do this anyways even in my home country, because it’s easier).

Dental symptoms

If you’re not just at the dentist for a teeth cleaning, you’ll need to describe the symptoms you’re experiencing in order for the dentist to diagnose the problem. You can use the phrases below to clarify the issue:

Word or phraseDefinition
toothachePain felt in or around a tooth
sensitive teethPain felt when drinking hot or cold beverages
sore gumsA painful sensation in the gums, usually when brushing or flossing
mouth soresSmall, painful blisters in the mouth
bad breathUnpleasant smell from inside the mouth
dry mouthNot enough saliva that causes a sticky and dry feeling in the mouth

Common dental problems

Once your dentist has finished the examination, they will explain the issue and how it can be treated. Some of the most common dental problems are as follows:

Word or phraseDefinition
cavityA decayed part of the tooth forms a hole
decayAn infection that destroys the teeth
gingivitisInflammation of the soft gum tissue surrounding the teeth
plaque A sticky substance containing microorganisms that grow on the surface of teeth
infectionA disease caused by harmful microorganisms like bacteria or virus (in this case linked to the mouth or area around the mouth)
broken teethA crack or chip on the tooth, usually caused by injuries to the mouth
teeth stainsYellowish discolouration of the teeth caused by food and drinks or by disease and medications

Dental procedures and treatments

There are a wide variety of regular and specialised dental treatments. This table defines words and phrases your dentist might use when explaining such dental procedures:

Word or phraseDefinition
fillingA protective material like gold, porcelain, or composite resin is used to fill a tooth cavity or repair cracked or broken teeth
flossingCleaning between your teeth using a thin thread, which is called a dental floss (usually also done at home)
mouthwashA liquid used for rinsing the mouth
whiteningBleaching teeth to make them look whiter
bracesMetal or plastic wires that are attached to the teeth to push them into the correct position
denturesA removable replacement for missing teeth
extractTo remove a tooth
implantA small titanium fixture that replaces the root portion of a missing tooth
crownA material used to cover a damaged tooth
anesthesiaA medication injected to help lessen the pain and discomfort during a dental procedure
dental x-rayPictures of teeth and gums that show a dentist if there are cavities, gum disease, or other dental problems
dental check-upA routine examination of the teeth to make sure they are healthy
teeth cleaning(Usually) twice per year procedures used to clean the gums and teeth in order to promote general teeth health

Types of dentists and other related health practitioners 

After a general checkup, your dentist may recommend you to visit a specialist who can best help with your specific dental problem. Here are the names of dental specialists and other related health practitioners that you may need to visit:

Type of Dentist or Health PractitionerWhat they specialise in
Dental hygienistA person who cleans the teeth, checks for gum disease, and advises on how to care for your teeth
Dental technicianA person who constructs custom dentures, crowns, implants, and other dental appliances
EndodontistA dentist who specialises in treating root canals
OrthodontistA dentist who specialises in straightening teeth

To mention something super important: the extent to which dental costs are covered by health insurance depends on the location and country at hand. If you’re travelling or living abroad and are new to the healthcare system, make sure you check with your insurance provider about how they handle visits to the dentists in order to avoid or reduce paying for everything on your own.

For more specific details on this, take a look at our country-specific health insurance guides for:

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