Top 5 Innovations in Dental History

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You just can’t deny it - we dentists love gadgets. All those tools are obviously there to clean and repair teeth, but they also serve the valuable purpose of looking really cool. That surgical, stainless steel aesthetic is definitely a vibe. 

But it wasn’t always this way. Dental equipment has come a long way since blacksmiths were yanking teeth with pliers the size of tennis rackets. In fact, there are a number of innovations that have been true game-changers for our profession. 

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The Air-Powered Drill

Patients may think that the high-pitched whirr of a dentist’s drill is one of the more terrifying sounds imaginable, but that’s only because they haven’t heard the sound a belt-driven drill makes. That’s right, before the invention of the air-powered drill in the 1950s, dentists relied on a motorized, belt-powered drill that ran at about 20,000 rpm. For some perspective, the new air-powered models do something like 400,000 rpm. 

So, next time you’ve got someone fretting about a root canal, just remind them that there was a reason their grandparents were known as The Greatest Generation. That’s right, it’s because of the dentistry they endured. 

  1. Anesthetic

The only thing worse than taking a belt-powered drill to a molar is doing it without some Grade-A anesthetic. 

And for quite some time—like up until the late 19th century—your only options were to get your patients liquored up or use opium. Not ideal. However, both ether and nitrous began to be adopted in the late 1800s. Novocaine was discovered in 1904, followed by lidocaine in 1943. In combination with the success of general anesthesia in medicine, these breakthroughs made going to the dentist much, much less frightening - for both us and our patients.

  1. Fluoride

Fluoride is basically your patients’ dental guardian angel. They don’t know it’s there, but it’s doing them a real solid. In fact, the fluoridation of our drinking water has been called one of, if not the, most effective public health measures of the 20th century. It’s cheap, equitable, and incredibly effective at preventing tooth decay. Every time you see a patient with a mouth full of pearly whites, you can go ahead and tell them to thank their DGA (dental guardian angel), fluoride.

  1. The Reclining Dental Chair

If you’re like most people, you probably thought that dental chairs always reclined. But the 19th and early 20th centuries were wild times to be alive. Dental chairs were initially just rocking chairs propped backwards, and the modern design, with a break between the back and seat of the chair, didn’t appear on the scene until 1958. This version, which also allowed us dentists to sit, became wildly popular, and it’s the model for what we all use today. Truly, WWII and the post-war years were a golden age in dentistry.

  1. The Molar Media Mount

Okay, okay, so perhaps it’s not #1 on this list when it comes to lives changed, but it’s definitely #1 in our hearts. 

And the Molar Media Mount is a game changer. No more expensive TVs mounted at weird angles on your walls and/or ceilings. No more kids who can’t sit still through a cleaning. Instead, they’re entertained by whatever is on the iPad Mini, Kindle Fire HD, or whatever similarly sized tablet you attach to the Molar Media Mount. 

Maybe it won’t save as many teeth as fluoride, but it is way more fun than an air-powered dental drill. 

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