Mall of Georgia Dentistry's Blog

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Dental Terminology: Weird Words’ World Origins, Part II September 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mall of Georgia Dentistry @ 1:10 pm

More on the history behind some common words in dentistry:

“Caries”
A more technical term for cavities or tooth decay, caries means “rottenness” or “decay” in Latin, and according to etymoline.com has roots in the Proto-Indo-European word kere “to injure, break apart”, and Greek ker,  meaning “death, destruction”. Yikes! That is certainly not something you want going on in your mouth!  If that doesn’t make brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dentist sound good, then what else will, right?

“Incisor”
This word is Middle Latin for “cutting tooth” from Latin incisus, the past tense of incidere, “that which cuts into”, from Latin caedare, “to cut”.  Related words include  incision and… scissors! Would it be if kind of neat to call them scissor teeth?

“Canine”
This comes froth the Latin word caninus, “of the dog”, from canis,  “dog”.  These are named after dog teeth, and it’s pretty easy to why!

“Bicuspid”
This word combines the prefix bi-, meaning “two”, with Latin cuspidem ,”cusp, point”, indicating the tooth has two points. Saying “bicuspid” is a short way of saying “bicuspid molar”, and another name for this type of tooth is “premolar”… so read on for more on the meaning of that.

“Molar”
Molar comes from a Latin molarious dens, “grinding tooth”, with the Proto-Indo-European root of mel, “to rub, grind”.  It shares roots with the word “mill”.. so these are basically named milling teeth! And the word “premolar” mentioned above simply ads “pre-” meaning “before, in front of”.

“Periodontal”
From Greek odontos, “tooth”, with prefix peri- meaning “around”, it literally means “around the tooth”.

“Occlusion”
First used to refer to the way upper and lower teeth fit together in 1888, this comes from Latin occludere, “to shut up, to close up”.

“Smile”
Well, this one is not so simple or clear, but etymonline.com relates the word back to Old English smerian – “to laugh at”, Old High German smieron – “to smile”, and Latin mires- “wonderful”. There is also an explanatory note about how the word for smile in many languages is a diminutive form of the word for laugh, suggesting a “little laugh”.

If you enjoyed this, you should check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.  And, as always, take good care your “scissor teeth”, “dog teeth”, “two-pointed teeth”, and “mill teeth”! When you come to see Dr. Vancil or to have a cleaning at Mall of Georgia Dentistry, we do our part  to take care of them too, but your daily routine of home hygiene is the best way to maintain a “wonderful” smile and laugh… little or big laughs, hopefully plenty of both. 🙂

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