For those of you who visit the dentist on a regular basis, you could probably close your eyes and pretty accurately recall most of the instruments that sit on the tray next to the dental exam chair. But, if you’re like most patients, you have come up with creative nicknames for those dental instruments at your local dentist office. There’s the “sucky thing” and the “hooky thing” and the “squirty thing” and the mirror—it’s a mirror right? What exactly do they all do, and what are they really called? We’re here to demystify the most common dental tools and tell you why we stick them in your mouth.
- Dental mirrors – You may notice a couple of mirrors on the tray at your next dentist appointment. One is a regular mirror used to help the hygienist and dentist see all the angles of your mouth, and the other is a magnifying mirror to help us see things close up.
- Dental explorers & probes – These are the “pointy” or “hooky” instruments. They are used to explore the surfaces of your teeth so we can determine if there are any irregularities that need attention. The most common dental explorers you will see are the straight probe and the Shepherds hook (or curved probe). Both are used to detect tooth decay on various parts of your teeth.
- Periodontal probes – These dental instruments look a lot like dental explorers, but if you were to take a closer look, the tips of periodontal probes are blunt (not sharp) and are usually marked with engravings that allow us to measure gaps in your teeth and the depth of your tooth pockets in your gums. We also use these to measure cavity pockets for accurate fillings.
- Ultrasonic instrument – The ultrasonic instrument produces ultrasonic vibrations and water to remove plaque from teeth. This is a gentler method of cleaning teeth, but it has been found to be extremely effective.
- Saliva ejector – The saliva ejector (a.k.a. “Mr. Sucky” or “the sucky thing”) is usually made of a plastic tube with a disposable tip. It does just what the name says it does—it ejects saliva and other fluids from your mouth during your dental cleaning and exam. This is important because there are a lot of things during your cleaning that you really do not want to swallow.
- Electric polisher – Patients usually breathe a sigh of relief when we get to the sanding or polishing stage. It means that all the exam work is done, and now your teeth are about to get a thorough polishing. The electric polisher uses a disposable rubber cup and a gritty toothpaste to buff up your teeth and leave them smooth and shiny.
These dental instruments are all essential components in preventative dentistry. Without them, we would not have a very comprehensive picture of your overall dental health, and it wouldn’t be as simple to detect potential problems. Being proactive with your semi-annual dentist appointment is the number one way to stay on top of your oral health. And when you’re visiting our dentist office, you’ll have a chance to catch a glimpse of the dental instruments we use, and you’ll have a better idea of what they are and what they’re used for.