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I spent most of Monday morning at the dentist’s office having a crown put in place, but it turns out that time wasn’t entirely lost work-wise — dentists have some seriously cool tools, many of which you’ll actually recognize.  After we were done with the paying work, the dentist gave me a little tour and consented to let me shoot a few pics of some of her favorite tools.  (And no, the tool pictured above isn’t a toothbrush.)

Note: Please excuse the low quality pictures; I took them hurriedly with my phone.

First up (pictured before the jump): one hell of a “cordless drill.”  Actually, this is more the tiny-type of drill that’s used in your mouth.  This particular model is about the size and shape of an electric toothbrush, but instead of brushes on the head, it has a tiny shaft that accepts bits and spins up to as high as 25,000 RPM.  According to the dentist, it’s especially handy for root canals as it’s much smaller than the standard flex-shaft type so it fits easily into the back of the mouth.

The lights on the front indicate the speed selection, and it looked to me as though the silver part between the base and the top acts as a sort of transmission, multiplying the speed of the motor before it reaches the head.  You can change these out to adjust the top speed of the unit.

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This next piece is essentially a Dremel on steroids.  It was back in the lab where they made last-minute adjustments to temporary inserts and castings.  The base is a power supply which drives the motor, which is in the hand-held portion.  A knob on the power supply allows continuous adjustment from stop to 30,000+ RPM, and a hall-effect sensor on the output shaft sends constant speed measurements to the base where a processor adjusts power to keep it right on speed.

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Here you can see one of their most commonly-used bits.  It looks virtually identical to the one we used in the Dremel to open up the slot down the back of the guitar in our Guitar Hero controller build.  I’m not sure if you can see it in the blurry photo, but it’s a conical abrasive bit (i.e. it has small “burrs” all over it that remove material from almost any angle).

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Here are some more bits.

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And some abrasive bits/wheels.  Again, it’s kind of surprising how similar these are to the rotary bits we use in the shop.  Of course, they’re significantly more expensive.  I was whining to Sean the other day when we paid $8 for a single bit — these mostly start around $100 each.

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This is a tiny vacuum-form machine, just like the large ones you see used in prototyping shops.  (And, for that matter, like the one you see in use on MythBusters all the time.)  It works the same way, too: the cast piece with the handles slides up and clamps together to hold a sheet of plastic.  In the “up” position, you turn on an infra-red lamp in the top section, which softens the plastic.  Then, you place the item you wish to mold on the perforated platform, lower the plastic, and engage the vacuum pump in the base.  As the pump pulls the air out of the form, the plastic’s pulled perfectly around your work piece.  This piece is commonly used to make solid molds of shapes formed by softer stuff — the kind of material they can actually put in your mouth.

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Speaking of castings, this is a vibrating table used to assist in “degassing” casting materials once they’re in the mold.  When you pour your material into a mold, it’s possible for small bubbles to form, creating voids in the final casting.  This table vibrates to help force those bubbles out while the casting material is still in liquid form.

There you go: a series of tools at the dentist that are surprisingly similar to those you use at home.  And yes, I asked: The dentist says her experience with these drills and rotary tools does make her a whiz with a Dremel.

 

5 Responses to Unusual Tools: A Trip to the Dentist’s Office

  1. Nick Carter says:

    This is why, in my eclectic book collection, I have a two books on dental prothsesis making. Lots of interesting techniques.

    Those small micro motor handpieces are also sold by jewelers supply stores, they are rather spendy but much nicer than a flex shaft…

  2. James says:

    Most dentists I’ve been to use air tools. My girlfriend is a dental assistant and I’ve seen the air compressor in the back room at her office. I am very jealous 🙂

    They even have this insane workbench that has compressed air powered drawers that open and close themselves.

  3. shawn says:

    The Nitrous Oxide is the best part of being a dentist. You sit in that really comfortable chair & breathe deeply. I didn’t mind them taking out my teeth on the gas, so it must be good. But seriously I always check out the dentists tools, the Dremel type tool they use is awesome. I so want to walk out of the dentists office with one.

  4. janie says:

    Can you tell me what the top 2 cost? I’m sure they are out of my price range but maybe on eBay you never know.

    I just missed out on a great deal on eBay because I was sure it was going to be out of my price range and it sold for $5.99!!

    Now I have learned a lesson and it sure was an expensive one.

    This is really a neat site — I will be here often.

  5. Navy Dentist says:

    I am a dentist in the US Navy and I have to tell you, as someone who was a welder before they became a dentist, I got into dentistry because of the tools!

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