Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Hate Dental Tools

I went to the dentist today for my thrice a year teeth cleaning. (Yes, 3 times a year I suffer through this. My teeth have "issues".)

What I want to know is, why doesn't someone with a clue design dental tools?

Forget the drill. No, it's not nice, but I'm generally numb when it is used, and its use is irregular at best.

No, the real problems are the tools I see every four months:
  • the sonic cleaner
  • the polisher
  • the spit sucker
These are the bread and butter of hygienists, and they are all my bane. The hand scaling tools are bad when the hygienist concentrates in one place for too long, but these things - the powered tools, if you will - are much worse. Let's examine each briefly, shall we?

There is a special place in hell reserved for the person who invented the sonic tooth cleaner, and I don't even remotely believe in hell. This thing causes pain at a level that is hard to imagine. Supposedly this is because I have exposed roots, but in reality all a hygienist has to do is leave this thing in a single place for more than a fraction of a second and I am writhing, even where my teeth are in excellent condition. It's a deep ache that spreads out from the point of contact on the tooth. If left in one place for more than about 5 seconds I am convinced I would black out. I'd probably confess to anything the Bush administration wanted me to confess to as well, but then I'd lose consciousness.

The polisher seems benign enough, I know, and most of you probably think it's harmless. However, if you visited my dentist you might discover your mistake. The polisher I am subjected to is air driven, and it exhausts the air right into my mouth, right onto my teeth. If I had perfectly normal teeth this might not be a problem, but I don't. Instead I have teeth that lack enamel on various surfaces, and cold air blowing out of the polisher actually hurts. Once again I think some tool designer needs to spend eternity in pain as a result of this bit of work. It would have been pretty simple to capture the exhaust air and route it somewhere else. Even just a foot or two back down along the incoming air line would have kept it out of my mouth and from causing pain, but no. If you designed a polisher that exhausts into my mouth, and we meet, and I figure out what you did, you may be missing some of your own teeth before our conversation is entirely complete.

And finally the spit sucker. This has the low tech version of the polisher problem. It draws air across my teeth in ways that I do not approve of or appreciate. This one I do my best to control during my visit, but today I found myself being pinned down by my hygienist as she polished my teeth and used the spit sucker at the same time. So I had two sources of drafty nastiness in my mouth. I was not a happy camper. Not at all.

When a dog needs to have its teeth cleaned they knock it out entirely. I am starting to think that maybe I should go to the vet to get my teeth cleaned simply to get knocked out first.

And if you're a budding young dental tool designer, please keep in mind that avoiding pain is a good idea. Find a way to make your tools pain free and I will be in your debt. But if you continue on in the grand tradition of existing dental tool designers, i will be your implacable foe for the rest of my life.


  1. Jeff,
    Sorry to hear of your struggles with industrial design. But I do want to applaud your use of "implacable" in the context of teeth cleaning. A very toothsome choice.


  2. Thanks Doug. I think you got right to the root of the matter.

  3. I'd have to side with the hygienist on the sonic cleaner. Once the tooth starts to vibrate, any exposed nerves will generate unwanted signals (AKA pain/soreness) as it rubs against other tissue. (Ask me sometime about a related phenomenon using a tuning fork to find cracked ribs.)

    No arguments with me on the water suction probe. You'd think they'd be able to make it work more like a sump pump, turning on only when it detects some spit/water.

    In general, I'd say that you might need a different dentist. Might I recommend Dr. Leland Panec (a fine name for a dentist) of Mountain View. He's been my gotooth guy since 1992.

  4. I'm on my third dentist now. It just turns out that I have sensitive teeth, and that the current idea of the best way to clean them hurts. A lot.

    Years ago a former dentist had a device the sprayed baking soda and water at my teeth. It even let them control the temperature of the water. That worked just fine as far as I could tell, and was much less painful. Alas that device is now out of favor.

    When a dog needs its teeth cleaned the vet knocks it out entirely. It's much easier to clean its teeth that way. I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't go find a dentist who will hit me over the head with a big hammer before doing anything inside my mouth.

    Someday I'll need to let loose a rant about filling replacements, but that's not for this time around.


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