Seated Comfortably at the Dentist

Let’s talk about the dental chair! The main seat of action in any dental office, it causes a wide variety of reactions. Some get intimidated or nervous. Others feel a measure of relief, because their pain is about to go away or their mouth will be cleaner. A few gaze upon the chair and say “Wow, that would make an awesome gaming station!”

True as that may be, the dental chair is a precision tool, designed over the years to bring comfort to the patient and better access for the dentist. Granted, it wasn’t always that way. Before the 18th century, dental patients typically sat in a plain chair or lay on the floor, with an assistant holding their head while the dentist did his work. Thankfully, today things are better, through a succession of improvements the Yuba City Dentistry Group will detail in this article.

History of the Dental Chair

Here are several milestones in the development of what we know as the modern dental chair:

  • In 1790, American Josiah Flagg took a wooden Windsor writing chair and modified it by adding an adjustable headrest and tray for his tools. This became the first “dental chair.”
  • In 1832, Londoner James Snell improved on the design. Although still on four legs, he developed the first reclining dental chair.
  • In 1867, moving back to American innovation, James Beall Morrison constructed a chair that also could be raised and lowered, even tilted to the left or right. Demonstrating the power of trans-Atlantic collaborative efforts, dentists in Britain corresponded regularly with Morrison on ideas for improvements based on their individual practices.
  • In 1877, the dental chair became much easier to adjust with the addition of hydraulics by American Basil Wilkerson. Not until 1887, however, did a dental chair first use a central disc base, instead of the typical four legs on most chairs, as invented by Dewell Stuck.
  • 1891 saw the release of the Columbia chair (or “jackknife”), featuring improved hydraulics for the raising and lowering of the patient.
  • In 1954, a group of dentists developed a reclining chair that was the first to allow the dentist to sit down during procedures. Strangely, the back of the chair would not recline, so the patient’s feet were up in the air whenever the dentist tilted them back.
  • In 1958, Dr. John Naughton solved this problem by adding an articulated back and seat to his design, allowing the patient to recline comfortably. This addition completed what we recognize as the modern dental chair.

In a future article, we will look at variations in modern dental chair design and discuss their typical use. Rest assured, when you come to the Yuba City Dentistry Group for dental treatment, we want you to be comfortable and not fear the chair! To explore the application of sedatives, sleep dentistry and pain-free dental techniques, visit other parts of our website.


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