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One Easy Way to Stand Out as a Dental Intern/Shadow

Updated: 1 day ago

Reflecting upon my shadowing experiences back as a pre-dental student, I realized that often times I didn't understand terminology regularly used by dentists, hygienists, and assistants. To propel your success as a future dentist, I'd like to debunk 10 common dental terms that will help you feel comfortable and well-versed in a clinical setting.

Pictured above: Four-handed dentistry

I believe that my learning as a "shadow" would've been enhanced greatly if I knew what these professionals were using to communicate with each other. Familiarize yourself with this and challenge yourself to spend your time shadowing with a dentist asking more secondary or higher level questions rather than defining dental jargon, such as "Why are we treating this carious lesion with a filling vs onlay vs crown?"

Here is a list of 10 technical terms (in no particular order) and their simplified explanations to help you maximize your shadowing experience:

  1. Prophy - regular dental cleaning commonly done every 6 months

  2. Scaling and Root Planing (SRP) - a "deep" cleaning that requires local anesthesia (numbing)

  3. "Topical" - refers to topical anesthesia. Usually a jelly-like substance that is applied to the site where the local anesthesia injection will take place

  4. "PA" - a type of x-ray showing the roots of teeth and associated pathology

  5. "Bitewing" - another type of x-ray that is commonly used to check for cavities or defective dental fillings/crowns

  6. COE/POE - your typical dental check-up

  7. Caries - this is a dental "cavity"

  8. MOD/ MO/ DO/ O - There are five surfaces to every tooth with the first letter of each surface denoting the abbreviation. These all refer to surfaces (mesial/distal/occlusal) of a tooth. Below is a photo of a #19 DOBL onlay. Note how the ceramic restoration covers 4 of the 5 surfaces we discuss.

9. Bur - the interchangeable part of a dental handpiece responsible for the "drilling"

10. High speed/ Low speed - different types of dental pieces

By having a general acknowledgement of the above as a pre-dental student, I bet you would really impress the dental team you are shadowing since you can understand the language they are speaking. With this acquired base line knowledge, you can walk into your shadowing experience with an advantage of familiarity.

Bonus points: making a great impression with your dentist through a shared love of learning can even serve as the gateway to a strong letter of recommendation that will attest to your curiosity in dentistry. It's a win-win-win!

To help you succeed into your first day of shadowing, here is a starter pack of affordable and functional I can't enter a dental office without.

  1. PPE glasses: Stoggles dupe! 2 pairs for $20 is a steal. You'll want to protect your eyes from flying caries and phosphoric acid etchant.

  2. Compression socks: Prepare your joints and legs to stand on your feet for 8 hours a day while shadowing.

  3. Male/Women's fanny pack: Great belt bag that you can fit your keys, phone, small trinkets while travelling from office to office.

  4. Journal: A pocket sized journal for you to document procedures you've observed, questions you have about general dentistry, observations about the clinical and administrative aspect of dentistry. Doing this consistently will pay dividends when it comes to writing your personal statement. Trust me!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases through affiliate links support the blog at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support!

What dental terms have you heard while shadowing and seeking clarification? Comment below!


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If you are a pre-dental student and would like to seek assistance in your personal statement or mock interview practice, please email us at or send us a message in our chatbox to your right.

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Great information here!!

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