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Dental drills: 9,000 years in the making

Dental drills: 9,000 years in the making

Did you know that your dental drill, the one you probably used just yesterday, has a heritage of around 9,000 years?

In 2006, archaeologists in Pakistan discovered a number of teeth dating back to around 7,000 BC which exhibited distinct signs of drilling. It is thought that expert craftsmen used specifically adapted bow drills to core out infection and decay in their fellows’ teeth.[1]

The real innovations, however, started much more recently. In 1864, a British dentist called George Fellows Harrington invented a clockwork-powered dental drill called the Erado (from the Latin: I scrape out). This drill was significantly faster than previous drills but was insufferably noisy and, presumably, required winding up regularly. Nevertheless, it was the first example of a mechanised dental handpiece that allowed for continuous rotation and would prove to be the progenitor of many subsequent innovations.

The first of which appeared just four years later in 1868, when American dentist George F. Green patented a pneumatic dental drill powered by a pedal-operated bellows. This was closely followed by the 1871 pedal-powered drill from James B. Morrison.

Green then developed and patented the first ever electric dental drill in 1875, which represented a true revolution in the profession. Not only could an electric drill reach high speeds, it could maintain them indefinitely. For the first time this allowed for continuous treatment and it lay the foundation for the modern working technique that the majority of dental professionals have adopted today.

By 1914, electric dental drills could reach speeds of up to 3,000 rpm – and this was doubled by the 1950s when the first air turbine drills were introduced into practices.[2]

This new design, driven by compressed air, was first created by a New Zealander called John Patrick Walsh who began developing on the idea after working with a commercial-use air grinder. It didn’t take long for air turbine drills to gain popularity around the world and several different manufacturers in the US and Britain began shipping their own models by the end of the 1960s.[3]

And the same basic design is still very much in use today – albeit, modern handpieces operate at distinctly higher speeds, up to approximately 400,000 rpm. They have also been designed to increase usability and ergonomic appeal and are made from more reliable materials to ensure the highest levels of comfort and safety. Indeed, they are the real mainstay of a dental surgery and are indispensible to practitioners on a day-to-day basis.

Which is why it is so important that dental drills are effectively maintained. Since they play such an integral part in general everyday dentistry, any malfunctions can cause delays and cost money – not to mention the risk they can cause to a patient’s safety. Should a dental drill break inside a patient’s mouth, the damage caused could be catastrophic.

Therefore, it is imperative to find and work with an exemplary repair and maintenance service that you can trust to quickly and reliably fix your handpieces in the event something should go wrong. Quintess Denta can provide that service – and much more, including offering helpful maintenance and money-saving tips. What’s more, they work with every brand on the UK market and always ensure that nothing but the highest quality components are used for repairs.


For more information visit www.quintessdenta.com, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us on 028 6862 8966


[1] BBC: Stone Age man used dental drill; published online: 06/04/2015; link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4882968.stm [accessed 19/11/15]

[2] BDA: Clockwork drill and dental engine; published online: 07/06/2013; link: https://www.bda.org/museum/collections/dental-equipment/clockwork-drill-and-dental-engine [accessed 19/11/15]

[3] Medical Discoveries: Dental drill; link: http://www.discoveriesinmedicine.com/Com-En/Dental-Drill.html [accessed 19/11/15]




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