A Brief History of The Dental Chair: From Wooden To Smart

added on: May 3, 2021

Stanley Dentistry

Chances are, going to see the dentist is not at the top of your to-do list. Most people don’t necessarily enjoy their trips to the dentist — even if they understand that they’re necessary. While modern-day dentistry may still make some people uncomfortable, there have been huge improvements over the years in the dental field that make your six-month cleanings a lot more pleasant. Nowadays, dentists have better tools, protocols, and sanitization standards than they ever have before. But, in terms of patient comfort, the biggest improvement has to be the dental chair.

The dental chair has gradually evolved over the years, going from a static, wooden chair to a colorful, high-tech marvel that keeps patients comfortable and involved in the treatment process. 

We’re taking a closer look at the dental chair’s history and why (and how) it changed to become the dental chair you see and sit on today.

How it started

As surprising as it sounds, the obsession with good teeth didn’t start in the twenty-first century. The search for the perfect smile began way back in ancient Egypt, where they would use pieces of ivory and gold to replace missing teeth. Back then, dental “patients” would have had to sit or lie on the floor while someone held their head in position during treatment.

Stanley Dentistry

Example of a Ritter Chair

It wasn’t until 1790 that Dr. Josiah Flagg, an American dentist, modified his writing chair into a dental chair. He added a small headrest, created wider armrests, and attached a tray. Later on, James Snell added a mirror to this design to make it even more effective in dental offices.

In 1867, Dr. James Beall designed and created the first patented wooden dental chair. Dr. Beall added a footrest to the chair and gave it the ability to recline slightly. Over time, other doctors added metal pieces to the chair to make it more durable. By 1871, SS White Dental, a popular dental company, invented a completely metal chair that doctors could adjust using a crank. Four years later, Buffalo Dental Manufacturing introduced a dental chair that could collapse backward. This was a huge improvement on the chair as it finally made it possible for the dentist to sit (and fully concentrate) while treating their patients.

The next big change to the dental chair came in 1940 when Ritter Dental designed a chair with air pressure, a spittoon, and an x-ray device. Almost two decades later, prominent dentist Dr. Naughton created a chair with a back that doctors could adjust to a prone position. This marked the birth of the modern dental chair.

Dental suppliers have tweaked the design of the dental chair since then but Dr. Naughton’s general design reigns supreme, even today. These small changes include modern-day automation and more up-to-date materials.

Modern dental chairs

Most modern dental chairs are “smart” dental chairs. This simply means that they are usually fully adjustable, are on a pedestal, and have an engine that generates power for other compartments of the chair.

Smart dental chairs are made of plastic, metal, or a combination of both. They are also usually antimicrobial, which helps prevent the spread of germs between different patients and the dental team.

Unlike at a doctor’s office, dental patients are always in the chair, no matter what procedure they’re getting done. A few of the typical dental procedures include routine dental examinations, wisdom teeth removal, and orthodontic treatment.

Most modern dental chairs have several features that enhance the patient experience. These include:

  • Suction tubes for evacuating saliva during procedures.
  • Pneumatic tubes that generate power for surgical equipment.
  • Handpieces for drilling teeth or bone.
  • A screen that displays the mouth.

Types of dental chairs

You can group dental chairs into three general categories.

  1. Independent Mobile Design

Mobile clinics use these kinds of dental chairs because they’re not stationary. The chair is on wheels or a folding system. This makes it easy to move.

  1. Ceiling Mounted Chairs

With ceiling-mounted chairs, all the accessories of the chair come down from the ceiling and are not directly connected to the chair.

  1. Dental Chair Mounted

This design incorporates everything (including all the accessories and the engine) into the dental chair. 

Importance of a smart dental chair

Although the majority of people probably don’t notice the chair they sit in when visiting the dentist, dental professionals know that condition of the dental chair is pretty important when it comes to patient experience. Studies show that patients spend about 90% of their time in the dental chair during a typical visit. This means that the quality of the dental chair has quite a lot of sway over whether a patient has a good or bad experience. 

Another study states that patients can experience a 40% reduction in spinal pressure when the dentist decreases the chair’s angle by just 20 degrees. If you’re lying down in an uncomfortable position for an hour while getting your teeth cleaned, you’re not going to look back on your visit very fondly. This is why dentists need to be careful when choosing dental chairs for their practices. Chairs that are fully adjustable and offer plenty of comfort for the patient are the kind of chairs top-notch dental offices should be looking for.