For many people, going to the dentist is highly unpleasant. Mere thoughts of the sounds made by electric dental equipment are enough to turn both children and adults into nervous wrecks. It doesn't have to be this way. Ignorance breeds fear; many anxious patients can make dental visits easier for themselves simply by learning about the mysterious equipment they may see during their appointment.
The Dental Chair
At the centre of the examination room sits the dentist's chair, an oversized, padded and highly adjustable device designed to keep patients as comfortable as possible. The modern dentist's chair seems like a cross between a comfortable home recliner and a hairdresser's chair. After the patient sits down, the chair is reclined so that it is almost parallel to the floor. A foot pedal raises the height of the entire chair, so that the patient's mouth is comfortably close to the dentist.
The Evolution of the Dental Chair
The history of dental chairs is fascinating. The first adjustable dental chair was invented in 1790 by Josiah Flagg, an American dentist. Flagg began with a large, wooden Windsor chair and modified it to accommodate an adjustable head rest; before this, dental patients sat in a wooden chair without any head rest at all. Flagg also attached an arm extension for convenient placement of the necessary dental equipment. Forty years later, James Snell designed and created the first fully reclining dental chair. However, Snell's model did not allow for height adjustments. The first pump-style chair incorporated the adjustable features of the Snell model, and provided a foot pump that raised and lowered the patient. This functionality was a tremendous benefit for both dentist and patient, both of whom could now remain relatively comfortable for long periods of time. In 1867, British dentist James Beall Morrison patented his dental chair design. Building upon the advances of Josiah Flagg and James Snell, Morrison constructed a chair that could be raised up to three feet. It allowed the patient to recline fully, and was also capable of tilting to the left and right. This lateral tilt proved exceptionally useful during dental procedures focused on only one side of the mouth, such as extraction of wisdom teeth or filling cavities in the molars.
Dental Chairs Today
Modern dental chairs offer an ever-increasing list of benefits for patients and dental professionals. They are built out of aluminium, steel, and heavy plastic, and most offer smooth electric or hydraulic height and tilt adjustments. These models also usually have a bevy of electrical ports to accommodate drills and other medical equipment. This keeps all electrical cords in one convenient place and lowers the danger of tripping; it also allows the dentist to control the tools with a series of foot pedals attached to the base of the chair.
Comfort and Cleanliness
Heavy padding provides greater patient comfort. Earlier dental chairs often lacked padding and were constructed from bare wood; if they had any fabric covering at all, it was sewn from upholstery fabric. This made the chairs very difficult to sanitise between patients, particularly if the fabric was not easily removable. Modern dental chairs are ergonomically designed to fit the contours of the patient's body. They typically have a vinyl covering that is impregnated with an anti-microbial substance, such as MicroBan. If any bodily fluids come in contact with the chair, the microbes will quickly die. Vinyl is also very easy to wipe down and easily tolerates strong disinfectant cleaners, which ensures that each patient enjoys a freshly sanitised chair.
The Aesthetics of Medical Design
The appearance of the modern puffy, padded, comfortable dental chair also serves an important function: its non-threatening appearance soothes nervous patients and invites them to sit down and relax. This is a particular concern with children and all patients who are in great pain. The soft corners and rounded edges of today's dental chairs are intentional design elements designed to reduce stress. The first dental chairs were visually intimidating; their bare wood frames were uncomfortable, and the metal headrests and instrument trays made the chairs look like torture devices. This fomented feelings of apprehension and fear in the patients and virtually ensured that they would have an unpleasant experience.
How Heavy is Too Heavy?
Advances in dental chair design have also increased their load capacity. The typical chair can accommodate patients who weigh up to 330 pounds; many also have adjustable armrests that can be pulled out to widen the chair. Patients who weigh more than 330 pounds must make special arrangements to ensure their safety during a dental visit. In such extreme cases, the patient may be placed in an adjustable hospital bed designed for morbidly obese people. Patients who are extremely tall may also have difficulty with a standard-size dental chair, which can comfortably accommodate patients up to about six and-a-half feet tall. It is prudent for these people to mention their height when making a dental appointment so that accommodations may be made.
Knowledge is Power
When the mysterious equipment in the dentist's office is explained and examined, patients realise that there is very little to fear. They also have access to safe, effective anesthetics that eliminate all pain and discomfort from serious dental procedures. Fearful patients no longer have to suffer in silence; help is available and pain-free.