If you went to a dentist with a toothache in the 1700s, and he prescribed the removal of your tooth, it’s quite likely that you wouldn’t have had even a stool to sit on during the process. In fact, your dentist may have asked you to sit on the floor, at which point he would have stood behind you and secured your head between his knees. This position was ideal for two reasons: it provided easy access to your teeth and it kept your head still. (The reason you would not have kept your head still on your own, of course, is that this was prior to the invention of dental pain-killers.)
The first dental chairs were simply everyday wooden chairs with the headrests removed, but with arms in place – the arms being useful for the patient to cling to during a painful extraction.
In the 1790s, an American dentist named Josiah Flagg devised a more comfortable setup for the patient, fixing a padded headrest to the back of a simple wooden chair. He also made it more convenient for the dentist, by adding an extension to the chair that provided storage for commonly used tools.
James Snell of London created the first chair that was designed specifically for dental work in 1832. Snell’s chair featured both a back and a seat that allowed for minor adjustment. Innovations in dental chair design improved and multiplied, and by the late 1800s, over eighty different chair designs could be found on the market.
The true precursor to the modern dental chair, constructed by James Beall Morrison, merited a British patent in 1867. The base of the chair was made of iron, and the chair itself boasted both a headrest and a footrest. A ball-and-socket joint beneath the chair, accessible by a foot pedal, let the chair tilt backwards and forwards as well as to the right and left. The chair also allowed for over three feet of vertical adjustment.
As in all other aspects of dentistry, chair technology continues to advance: today’s chairs are made of steel, plastic, and aluminum; they involve electronic or hydraulic components, which provide for quick and smooth movements; and they take into account the latest in ergonomics and hygiene.
The next time you find yourself in a dental chair, lay back, relax, and remember that you’re enjoying the finest chair experience that dental history has to offer! And let us know at Greenberg Orthodontics how we can help with your orthodontic needs.