Life Before the High-Speed Handpiece
Going to the dentist is never something we generally look forward too; but understand how important it is. Dentist appointments often conjure up images of whirring drills, and sore gums. When we leave, our teeth look and feel great – yet we find ourselves thinking of the discomfort of having metal instruments poked around our mouths. We should all consider ourselves lucky, because like any technology dental handpieces have traveled a long road to become as sophisticated as they are today.
The bow-drill is the first recorded dental device, which is exactly what you think it is. A wooden, hand-crank drill used for tooth extractions and grinding imperfections. Considering the bow-drill was used during 7000 BC, where many believed dental pain was caused by worms. Although those “worms” turned out to be tooth roots, and nerves (who would have guessed?) You can bet that this was anything but a comfortable experience.
Throughout the middle ages, like most health issues, the answer to a tooth ache or a cavity was to simply remove the problem (in this case the tooth). Tooth extraction was the most popular – possibly the only – method of dentistry due to a lack of after-care and antibiotics. History has shown that tools like the dental key (which resembles a dense iron corkscrew) and the dental pelican (a metal clamp whose design resembled the shape of a pelican’s beak) were used to quickly extract any problem teeth – ouch!
The first handheld handpiece arrived during the 1800’s, but were powered manually with a pedal, like a sewing machine, or through a clock-work like set up, which made them slow, noisy and often times painful. Hand piece technology began to really take shape into what we see today in 1875 with the creation of the first electric hand-drill. Through many a trial and error, handpiece speed and intricacy advanced throughout the 1900’s into the tools we see in modern day dentistry. To give you a better idea of how much technology has improved, take into consideration that the first handpieces only worked at around 15 rotations per minute (rpm) while modern day handpieces can work at upwards of 400,000 rpm. Quite the difference right?
So next time you’re at the dentist remember; it may not be the most comfortable experience, but things could be worse. Thanks to the miracle of the modern day handpiece we get to keep our teeth and mouths healthy, intact and relatively pain-free. The gentle hum of the drill is much better than seeing a cast-iron cork screw on the dentists table.