The History of Dental Chairs

Vintage Dentist Chair at BookPeople in Austin photo by Kathryn Harper

Dentist Chair at BookPeople in Austin photo by Kathryn Harper

Have you ever been nervous to visit a dentist? Did your mind conjure up pain and envisioned a torture chamber? Well, if ignorance breeds fear, maybe a little history lesson will bring you up to the 21st century…dentistry has come a long way.

A Painful Past

If your vision of that “torture chamber” included a bare wooden chair with no head rest, a stool for the dentist and a rudimentary set of picks and pliers, you’d have brought dentistry back more than 400 hundred years! Back then that may have been a correct assessment of the situation. With no anesthetics and a very uninviting chair, it’s no wonder people felt this way.

By 1790, the world’s first adjustable dental chair was invented. This actually featured an adjustable headrest and an attached arm extension for convenient access to dental equipment. Advancements in dental offices have always been for the good of the patient, as much as for the good of the dentist. Being able to properly access your mouth makes it easier for your dentist to do his work, but making it comfortable for the patient means a less stressful experience and being less likely to avoid the necessary treatment.

In the early 1800’s came the first fully reclining dental chair. Building on this design brought about the first pump-style chair that raised and lowered the patient. In 1867, a British dentist constructed a chair that could not only raise the patient up to three feet and allow the patient to fully recline, but was also capable of tilting side to side. The first truly ergonomic dental chairs had been invented and paved the way for the advancements yet to come.

An Evolution in Comfort and Cleanliness

Modern dental chairs are a thing to truly appreciate the next time you’re scared to make that appointment. The modern puffy, padded and comfy, clean and convenient chairs of today’s dental office should have you feeling calm and relaxed. The anesthetics alone should have you feeling less threatened and more “pampered.” You are living at the pinnacle of dental advancements, and it can only get better.

Today’s chairs are built and actually sold in a complete set of state of the art, ergonomic dental offices, complete with rolling chair for the dentist, sink and lights. The chairs are electromechanical and hydraulically powered, smooth and completely adjustable. The equipment is conveniently located and powered by a set of foot pedals keeping any electrical cords in place making it easier to move around the chair and office.

The first to re-think and redesign these complete sets of ergonomic dental offices was the late Dr. Coburn, of Cox Systems and Coburn Dental Systems. His advancements to treatment rooms as a whole started in 1960 and his work on ergonomic dental offices truly revolutionized the practice of dentistry.

While early chairs may have had some padding (if you were lucky), it was most certainly upholstery fabric and very difficult to clean, let alone sanitize. Modern dental chairs are ergonomically padded to the contours of your body as well as covered with a vinyl substance with anti-microbial protection such as MicroBan.

The next time you need to visit Dr. Matthews about a dental implant or even a routine checkup, fear of discomfort should be the last thing on your mind. The innovations and evolution of this once “necessary evil”, has transformed the practice of dentistry to allow even optional cosmetic dental procedures to be a pleasant, reasonable experience.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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