What is the meaning of some of the “lingo” that we use in an orthodontic office?

Starting with a patient’s first orthodontic appointment with us, which is an  initial consult, families of our practice hear the orthodontist, coordinators and assistants use terms that may or may not be familiar to them. I thought it would be helpful to write an article that explains some of the terminology that we use. We try to do a great job explaining what these terms mean to the patients or their parents, but here is a “cheat sheet” to help de-mystify some of our fancy words!

Mesocephalic- Having a medium proportioned head shape

Dolicocephalic – Having a narrower elongated head shape

Brachycephalic – Having a shorter and wider head shape

Nasolabial angle – When looking at a patient’s profile, the angle formed between the upper lip and the bottom of the nose

Labiomental angle – When looking at a patient’s profile, the angle formed between the lower lip and the upper portion of the chin

Mentalis strain – The “wrinkled” appearance of the chin muscle when the lips have to work too hard to close

Retrognathic  – Too far back, often referring to the upper or lower jaws

Prognathic – Too far forward, often referring to the upper and lower jaws

Impacted tooth – A tooth that is “stuck” in the jaw bones, and is not erupting on its own

Blocked out tooth- A tooth that can erupt on its own, but is prevented from doing so by a lack of space available

Class I – A relationship where the upper and lower back teeth bite ideally with one another (in a front- to-back direction)

Class II – The upper teeth are relatively too far forward in relation to the lower teeth

Class III – The lower teeth are too far forward in relation to the upper teeth

Decalcification – The process of teeth loosing mineral structure, often resulting in permanant white spots. The initial stage of tooth decay.

Arch length – The amount of space available for the upper or lower teeth, usually measured from molar to molar (Crowded teeth usually arise from a lack of arch length)

Proclined incisors – The front teeth are excessively tipped outwards

Retroclined incisors – The front teeth are excessively tipped back

Anterior crossbite – The front teeth are located on the wrong side of an another (upper teeth behind the lowers)

Posterior crossbite – The back teeth are biting incorrectly in a lateral, or side to side direction

Curve of Spee – The upwards curve from the biting surface of the lower back teeth to the biting edge of the lower front teeth

Functional shift – When the bite is not fitting correctly, and the lower jaw must shift sideways or foreward to find a comfortable place to bite

Frenum or Frenulum – The small ridge of tissue that connects two areas, such as the base of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, or the fold of tissue that can be felt on the gums above and between the two front teeth.

Frenectomy – The removal or reduction in size of the above tissue

Ankyloglossia- The term for being “tongue -tied”, when the frenum beneath the tongue is short and decreases tongue movement

This is just a small sample of terms that you may hear around the office, but I hope it helps with your dental and orthodontic awareness!


Dr. Dan Rejman is a practicing, board certified orthodontist in Castle Rock, Colorado, and is the owner of Meadows Orthodontics!