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Introduction

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Dentistry is a branch of medicine that consists of the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases, disorders, and conditions of the oral cavity, commonly in the dentition but also the oral mucosa, and of adjacent and related structures and tissues, particularly in the maxillofacial (jaw and facial) area. Although primarily associated with teeth among the general public, the field of dentistry or dental medicine is not limited to teeth but includes other aspects of the craniofacial complex including the temporomandibular joint and other supporting, muscular, lymphatic, nervous, vascular, and anatomical structures.

Dentistry is often also understood to subsume the now largely defunct medical specialty of stomatology (the study of the mouth and its disorders and diseases) for which reason the two terms are used interchangeably in certain regions.[where?]

Dental treatments are carried out by a dental team, which often consists of a dentist and dental auxiliaries (dental assistants, dental hygienists, dental technicians, as well as dental therapists). Most dentists either work in private practices (primary care), dental hospitals or (secondary care) institutions (prisons, armed forces bases, etc.).

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Radiograph of teeth in different developmental stages.
Tooth development is the complex process by which teeth form from embryonic cells, grow, and erupt into the mouth. Although many diverse species have teeth, non-human tooth development is largely the same as in humans. For human teeth to have a healthy oral environment, enamel, dentin, cementum, and the periodontium must all develop during appropriate stages of fetal development. Primary (baby) teeth start to form between the sixth and eighth weeks in utero, and permanent teeth begin to form in the twentieth week in utero. If teeth do not start to develop at or near these times, they will not develop at all.

A significant amount of research has focused on determining the processes that initiate tooth development. It is widely accepted that there is a factor within the tissues of the first branchial arch that is necessary for the development of teeth. Tooth development is commonly divided into the following stages: the bud stage, the cap, the bell, and finally maturation. The staging of tooth development is an attempt to categorize changes that take place along a continuum.

Enamel formation occurs after the initiation of dentin formation. Cementum begins to form late in the development of a tooth. Supporting structures of teeth must also develop during this time. Tooth eruption occurs when the teeth enter the mouth and become visible. Baby teeth start to appear at about six months of age, and permanent teeth appear at six years of age.

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