Dental Science for Dental Assisting Exam Study Guide

Updated on Jun 23, 2011

Practice problems for this study guide can be found at:

Dental Science for Dental Assisting Exam Practice Problems

Tooth numbering systems, tooth surfaces, cavity classifications, anatomic features of the teeth, and angles and divisions of the teeth are the framework for understanding most dental procedures. Oral embryology and histology, along with head and neck anatomy, are also important subjects of interest for the dental assistant.

Concepts and Skills

Dental Science is broken down into 11 main areas:

  • Dentition Overview
  • Tooth Morphology
  • Oral Embryology and Histology
  • Head and Neck Anatomy
  • Dental Caries Process
  • Periodontal Disease Process
  • Preventive Dentistry
  • Nutrition
  • Oral Pathology
  • General Anatomy
  • General Physiology

The outline below chronicles the most current information available regarding each area of Dental Science, but remember to study your textbook as well.

Dentition Overview

A dentition is a complete set of teeth. Humans have two dentitions, or sets of teeth, in their lifetimes. These are the primary and the permanent dentitions.

The Dentitions

Primary Dentition – 20 teeth

The primary dentition, commonly referred to as “baby teeth,” occurs between six months and six years of age. Other names for this dentition include the deciduous dentition and the succedaneous dentition. These teeth are exfoliated, or “lost,” beginning at approximately age six.

Mixed Dentition – varied numbers

This dentition occurs on a child between the ages of approximately seven to 12 years of age. In a mixed dentition, there are both primary and permanent teeth present in the mouth at the same time.

Permanent Dentition – 32 teeth

The permanent dentition, also known as “adult teeth,” begins erupting at about age six. The teeth will continuously erupt until approximately age 12. There will be a pause in eruption until ages 17 to 21, when the wisdom teeth, or third molars, begin the eruption process. These are the last teeth to erupt.

Dental Arches


The upper arch in the mouth is referred to as the maxillary arch. This is named for the bone of the upper arch, which is called the maxilla. The maxillary arch holds 16 of the 32 permanent teeth and 10 of the 20 primary teeth.


The lower arch in the mouth is referred to as the mandibular arch. This is named for the bone of the lower arch, which is called the mandible. The mandible is the only movable bone in the skull. The mandibular arch holds the lower 16 of the 32 permanent teeth, and the lower 10 of the 20 primary teeth. The curvature formed by the maxillary and mandibular arches is known as the curve of Spee.


The mouth can be divided into smaller areas to make charting and communication easier. One such division is called a quadrant. The mouth is divided into four quadrants: Upper Right, Upper Left, Lower Left, and Lower Right. Each quadrant holds eight teeth.

Anterior Teeth

These teeth are located at the front of the mouth. They consist of the central and lateral incisors and the cuspids (canines). Anterior teeth are designed for cutting and tearing of food. These teeth have incisal edges. There are six anterior teeth in each arch in both the primary and permanent dentitions.

Posterior Teeth

These teeth are located at the back of the mouth. They consist of premolars (bicuspids) and molars. Posterior teeth are designed for chewing and grinding of food just prior to swallowing. These teeth have biting surfaces that have grooves, pits, and fissures to aid in chewing, which are known as the occlusal surfaces. There are ten posterior teeth in each arch in the permanent dentition and only four posterior teeth per arch in the primary dentition.

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