dentists chair

In the dentist’s chair

The thought of waiting for the “blast-off” signal from mission control has passed through more than one person’s head when sitting in a modern dental chair. In fact, when the first modern reclining chair was introduced, it was placed in a mock space ship at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, reports the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing dental education.

Eric Curtis, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry, explains that the dental chair hasn’t always enjoyed a reputation for patient comfort or dental efficiency.

A conventional armchair was the first dental chair in the 18th century when dentists stood while working with patients. Neither the doctor nor the patient was very comfortable, says Dr. Curtis.

During the 19th century, a type of barber chair, made of metal and wood, was used which could be tilted forward and back and adjust to accommodate the patient’s head and feet. By the end of the 1800’s, some dentists discovered the benefits of being seated during their work, but it wasn’t until the invention of the modern reclining chair in 1954 that encouraged “sit down dentistry.”

An additional experiment on the dental chair led it into wider acceptance. Leaning the patient back 50 degrees brought the patient’s feet high in the air, but soon a chair was developed with two independently moving parts: the seat and the back. Rather than the entire chair angling backward, the back of the chair could be lowered independently from the seat.

“Patients find the chair surprisingly comfortable,” Curtis explains. At one time, Dr. Curtis had a patient who wanted to sit in the chair during his lunch hour. “It’s good for my back,” said his patient.

Dr. Curtis considers the chair as it stands now as almost perfect. “While a lot of other technologies have changed in the dental office I’ve never heard anyone say, let’s change the chair.”