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History of oral health

Dental instruments

Dental instruments are high-tech, specialized and very effective, but they haven’t always been that way. Take a look at the sometimes questionable tools of the past.

Tooth extraction took the form of a “bird beak” in the 14th century when Guy de Chauliac developed the dental pelican. Teeth were secured into the end of a curved shaft and then pulled out sideways.

Foot-treadle spinning wheels expanded from thread spooling to dental drilling in 1790. Invented by George Washington’s personal dentist, John Greenwood, the first dental drill was powered by a foot engine. While it was difficult to use and operated at a super slow speed, it opened the gateway for future development.

Patients of George Fellows Harrington had to cover their ears during procedures. In 1864, he invented a clockwork dental drill that ran faster than previous drills but emitted a deafening noise.

Dental instruments in the U.S. made a huge leap forward when John Borden invented the first modern dental drill in 1957. His high-speed, air-driven dental drill took only minutes to prep teeth for fillings.

Today’s dental drills reach such high speeds by operating with air or electricity. While the noise may scare some, they make dental work significantly easier and far more accurate.

Dental drills today run at hundreds of thousands of rotations per minute, while the earliest dental drills ran as slow as 2,000 rotations per minute. 

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Dentist examining a patient's teeth in the dentist