Chapter X

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The terminology employed for describing the teeth is derived primarily from Latin, although the odd Greek word appears, and words of a Germanic origin are also commonly used in informal discussion. A tooth is divided into three major regions: the , , and (literal translations of their Latin names: corona, collum or cervix, and radix). At the core of a tooth is the soft pulp (Lat. pulpa dentis), surrounding which is the hard substance known as . At the root, this substance is protected by bonelike connective tissue called the “,” which is a Latin word meaning “rough-hewn stone,” ultimately from the base -, “to cut.” On the surface of the tooth the dentin is covered by the , which gets its name for its hard, smooth, glossy surface (ultimately from a Germanic word meaning “to smelt”). “Gum” is the common name for the mucosal tissue surrounding the teeth in the interior of the mouth, though it also has a more technical name , which meant the same thing in Latin. The ligament or membrane (Grk. “around the tooth”) surrounds the root of the tooth and connects it to the alveolar bone. Bone is also present directly under the tooth at the , or splitting, of the root.

Dentists also use a series of Latin-based terms to denote specific areas on the surface of a tooth. The “facial” surface is the one facing the outside of the mouth: for the back teeth, this is also known as the “” surface because it faces the cheek, whereas the corresponding outward face of the front teeth is predictably called the “” surface. The side opposite this surface is called “” for the bottom teeth, “” for the top. “” and “mesial” refer to the side of the tooth relative to the midline or axis of the dental arch: the former indicates the side farther away from this midline, while “mesial” indicates the side closer to it. Technically “mesial” is derived from Greek mes-, which means the same as Latin -; the preference for this lone Greek word in a category otherwise dominated by regularly-formed Latin terms is strange—why not “medial”? “Occlusal” refers to the top of the molars and premolars, since these surfaces contact the corresponding teeth on the opposite side when the mouth is . Lastly, note that combinations of these terms can also occur (e.g., “mesio-occlusal,” “distolingual”).

The teeth themselves are divided into categories that also have Latin names. Starting from the back: the are named for their grinding function (Lat. “millstone”), followed by the (“two-cusped”) , which come “before the molars.” The four canines (“ teeth,” from Lat. canis) have a long, conical crown and the strongest root of any of the teeth; they are so called because these teeth are especially developed in some carnivorous animals, including dogs, but the choice seems arbitrary on account of the fact that all mammals have canine teeth, even herbivores (stallions, for example, use them to fight other stallions). Finally, the four on each jaw are designed for the act of “cutting into”; the one is closer to the midline of the arch, while the lateral one is on its distal side, i.e., farther away from the midline.