When you first walk into the dentist’s office there are 2things that will likely catch your eye. The first is the large, uncomfortable looking chair and the second is the tray of tools to its right. That tray of silver pointy objects might look like something out of a horror movie, but these are all commonly used tools that help the dentist examine and fix your teeth. To take some of the unknown out of it, we are going to explain what some of the basic tools a dentist uses in the average check-up.
The most common and least scary looking tool in a dentist’s arsenal, a mouth mirror is a tiny mirror attached to a very long handle at a slight angle. They come in a variety of different sizes and they have 2 main uses. The first is to act as, well mirrors, to allow the dentist to see the hard to reach areas of your mouth and teeth. By doing this they can check for tooth decay or other problem indicators and generally check the health of your teeth. Most dentists will also use their mirror to move your tongue or cheek during the exam so that they can see your teeth, gums and cheeks clearly.
Once they’ve had a good look around, the dentist will usually go around your mouth with an explorer. This is a metal instrument with a sickle on one end and a small hook on the other. This is used to explore the surface of the tooth and looking for soft spots that might indicate tooth decay. The hooked end is used to gauge the feel of the enamel on your teeth, which helps your dentist see if there are any indications of tooth decay at a surface level and deeper. There are many types of explorer with a few subtle differences and each dentist has their own preference, so some might look slightly different to others.
Periodontal probes look similar to the dental explorers, but the working tip of the tool is completely blunt. Along the slightly longer, subtler hook you will see lined marked into the metal. These are so that the dentist can accurately measure the depth of your periodontal pockets (the section where gum meets teeth), the dimensions of cavity preparations, gaps between your teeth and levels of gum recession. These probes are always curved in order to accurately measure these areas at any point in your mouth. Each type of probe will have different depths of measurement, and again your dentist will have a favoured type of probe. The most common is the Williams Probe, which measures a depth from 1mm up to 10mm in 1mm increments, as opposed to the Michigan O which only measured 3,6 and 8mm, or the PCP12 which measures 3,6,9 and 12mm.
Scalers and Curettes
Scalers and Curettes are the tools that inspire the most hatred of dentists. These are small hand held tools that are sharp at the ends, making them an incredibly effective tool for scraping tartar and plaque off your teeth. They are slightly curved so that their shape mimics that of a tooth, which allows them to get into all the crevices where plaque might be lurking. While these are everyone’s least favourite tool. It is the most essential for maintaining high standards of oral hygiene and preventing plaque build-up and tooth loss.
An aerator is the large handle and head of the unit you will most likely know as ‘the drill’. The drill is air driven, but is capable of spraying air and water in order to clean and clear areas of tooth being worked on. Dental burrs are then attached to the head to form a drill used to excavate tooth matter for fillings and other work. They are made of either stainless steel of tungsten carbide depending on the model and are used mainly for preparing your teeth for fillings and root canals. There are 5 types of bur shapes (round, straight fissure, tapered fissure, inverted cone, pear) and each of these helps the dentist excavate different areas of your tooth.
While a dentist is poking around inside your mouth, you will notice a build-up of saliva. This is a perfectly natural bodily response to having foreign objects in your mouth, but it can get in the way of the dentist’s work. During your appointment you will probably hear your dentist ask her assistant for ‘suction’ several times. A saliva ejector is the tool they use to extract the saliva from your mouth without you having to swallow it. It is traditionally a long, white tube attached to a suction motor. It behaves very much like a vacuum, sucking away excess saliva and leaving the view clear for the dentist.
There are of course many other varieties of dental tools for different tasks of levels of dental work, but these are the most common tools that you will see on your average dentists visit. For more comprehensive work such as filings, root canals, extractions or X-Rays you will see even more unusual tools, and we will cover some of these in future posts. For more information or to book your appointment, get in touch with us today.