Dental Instruments Buying Guide
Shopping for dental instruments requires knowing exactly what each instrument does and what qualities to look out for.Our guide aims to help you understand the most common types of dental hand instruments and their functions, so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying.
What are dental instruments?
Dental instruments are small pieces of hand-held equipment used to examine, treat, restore and remove teeth.
They are typically made of either stainless steel or disposable plastic, and will often fall under one of two categories: non-cutting and cutting.
Though many of these instruments look similar, most are designed for a specific area of dentistry, such as examinations, restorations or periodontics.
Instruments can be purchased individually or in kits made up of an assortment of instruments. Here is our guide to the most frequently used dental instruments.
Non-cutting dental instruments
The dental mirror is made up of a handle, stem and rounded head. These components can be purchased individually as replacement parts.
Its most common uses are exploring areas of the mouth where visibility is difficult or impossible, and retracting the tongue or cheeks for better access and vision. It can also be used to reflect light onto desired surfaces.
Mouth mirrors can be single sided or double-sided. Double-sided mirrors are designed for greater illumination and visibility.
The most common sizes of mirror are no.2 (18mm), no.4 (22mm) and no.5 (24mm). Features to look out for include anti-grip for improved handling, scratch resistance for less distortion and minimal crevices for easier cleaning.
Dental probes, sometimes referred to as explorers, are sharp, thin and flexible instruments used to examine teeth for decay, calculus and other oral issues. They can also be used to detect the integrity of fillings with the surrounding teeth and check margins of crowns.
The three main types of explorers are distinguishable by their working ends. Most common is the Shepherds Hook (No. 23) which has a curved end. The No. 17 Explorer has a flatter and shorter hook and is used for interproximal areas between the teeth. The third type is the Pigtail Explorer, which is used to curve under and around the teeth.
Periodontal probes are used to measure the pocket depth between gum and tooth. This is done to assess the health of the periodontium and check for signs of gum disease.
They can also be used to measure the width of teeth and overbite. These measurements are taking using the incremental markings on the tip of the probe. Different probes will have different increments, e.g., 1mm, 3mm.
Perio probes have a long and thin blunted end. They can be either stainless steel or plastic. Some dentists will prefer autoclavable probes that provide several uses and flexible tips for more comfortable use.
Briault probes are very similar to periodontal probes but differ in that the working end is sharp.
A briault probe can be used to detect caries in between surfaces of the teeth which the dental mirror cannot find. It can also be used to detect hidden tartar build up in the gums.
Amalgam Pluggers (Condensers)
Amalgam pluggers, or condensers as they are also known, are used to pack and condense filling material into the base of a cavity preparation.
The instrument is used to ensure the material fills all corners and edges of the tooth, areas that can sometimes be missed if using a glove to squish the material.
Amalgam condensers can have either one or two flat working ends. Look out for pluggers that have a hollow handles to reduce the overall weight and handling of the instrument.
Amalgam carriers are used to carry and dispense amalgam filling material to a tooth cavity. The working end of the carrier is hollow and the non-working end is a plunger which is used to push the amalgam out.
Amalgam carriers have various sizes of tips for the different amounts of amalgam needed. The working end can be straight or curved. Most metal and plastic amalgam carriers are autoclavable for multi-use.
A flat plastic is a double-ended instrument with flat, blunted blades at either end. It is sometimes referred to as a plastic instrument.
It is used for adapting composite filling materials to dental cavities, removing excess material and ensuring smooth margins between the restoration and tooth surface.
A ball burnisher is used for smoothing and contouring amalgam or a composite filling prior to setting.
It can also be used to remove excess filling material and emphasis grooves. Burnishers can be single or double-sided and come in a variety of shapes and size, all of which have smooth and rounded ends.
Cutting dental instruments
Scalers are used to remove calculus from the tooth, including in the tiny pockets. They are usually two-sided with two working ends.
Dental scalers can be either universal and designed for use anywhere in the mouth, or they can be designed specifically for certain teeth and areas.
Sickle scalers have a sharp point and are recommended for removing calculus above the gum line. Curettes are recommended for removing calculus below the gum line (subgingival calculus) and have rounded ends to ensure less damage to the gingiva.
The best dental scalers will be ergonomic and lightweight. Cybertech scalers and most other dental instruments from Cybertech come with hollow handles for improved handling.
Excavators are used for removing carious dentin during cavity preparation. This is done with gentle and controlled scraping using the sharp spoon-shaped working ends
Excavators can be single or doubled ended. Various sizes and shapes of excavators are available depending on the cavity that needs to be prepared.
Dental burs attach to a handpiece and are used for cutting and polishing hard tissues of the mouth.
There are several types of dental burs used for different types of procedures. The three most common type of dental bur are diamond burs, tungsten carbide burs and steel burs. See our Ultimate Guide to Dental Burs for full information.
Dental Wax Knives
Dental wax knives are used mainly for denture construction. They come in various sizes and can be used either cold or hot.
Small wax knives are used in the fabrication of crowns for placing and carving inlay wax. Large wax knives are used for melting, placing and carving modelling wax for dentures.
Elevators are single ended instruments used to loosen and elevate the teeth in their sockets prior to extraction. This is done to create space and prevent trauma to adjacent teeth and tissues.
The most common type of elevator is the Couplands Elevator, sometimes referred to as a chisel.
Coupland elevators are often used in a set of three, each of increasing size. These are used in order to split multi-rooted teeth. They’re inserted between the bone and tooth roots and rotated to elevate and extract the tooth out of the socket.
Extraction forceps are used for extracting teeth from the mouth. There are several types of forceps which vary in design depending on the tooth that’s being removed, and the location of the tooth within the mouth.
Upper left permanent molars, upper right permanent molars, upper premolars, lower premolars and lower permanent molars all have their own type of forceps adapted specifically for their extraction
Universal forceps do exist and have a beak that can be used in any area of the mouth. Other forceps, such as Bayonet Extraction Forceps, have an elongated beak designed for use on maxillary third molars and roots.
Carvers are used for shaping and carving amalgam and composite materials prior to filling. Carvers can also be used for placing the material.
Dental carvers have sharp working ends and can be either single or double-sided with various sizes depending on the shape of the restoration.
Dental retractors are used to move the cheeks, lips and tongue for better visibility and access to the teeth.
Retractor size and style varies from procedure to procedure, and whether the patient is a child or adult. They can be either plastic or metal and disposable or autoclavable.
The air/water syringe is used to spray air and water into the patient’s mouth during treatment, either separately or together.
Syringe tips can be metal or plastic, disposable or autoclavable and often come in an assortment of colours.
Preferable features include a lightweight design for easier handling, separate chambers to minimize crossover between air and water and rounded edges to prevent harm to patients.
The saliva ejector is used to suck out or eject excess saliva or water from the patient’s mouth during a procedure.
Saliva ejectors can be plastic or metal. Plastic Saliva ejector tips are always disposed of after use on a patient.
Dental syringes are used to administer a local anaesthetic prior to treatment by numbing areas of the mouth to reduce pain.
The dental syringe is made up of a thumb ring which is used to control the syringe, the barrel for loading the anaesthetic carpule and a harpoon which penetrates the carpule’s rubber stopper. The anaesthetic then pushes up and out though the needle.
Dental needles are available in three lengths: long, short, and ultra-short which are selected according to injection type and depth penetration. Great strides have been made in recent years to improve needle safety, epitomized by the Ultra Safety Plus Twist.
Tweezers are used to place and remove small items like cotton wool pellets into the mouth safely.
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