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I visited the local science museum recently and ran across this circa-1890, dentist’s “foot engine.”  I realize now why people back in the 1800s had jacked up teeth” they didn’t want to go stare this thing down. 

Basically, the drill is attached to one end of a rotary cable, which in turn is attached to the wheel via gearing and a belt.  The dentist (or his assistant) mashes the pedal up and down to spin the drill. 

I always thought the new-fangled super-high-rpm drills sounded like death, but the slow rickety noise this thing must have made must be way, way worse.  So call me a sissy, but I’d probably have messed up teeth, too, if this was the only other option.


8 Responses to It’s Just Scary: The Dentist’s Foot Engine

  1. JamesBrauer66 says:

    I just looked up that Einhorn synthesized Novocaine in 1905, so there is a 15 year window there where I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to get a filling.

  2. Tom says:

    On the other hand, Wikipedia says that prior to the discovery and synthesis of Novocaine, cocaine was the most commonly used anesthetic!!

  3. marc says:

    two words: no novacane

  4. Jay says:

    The US Army still has these around for backup when the power fails or is unavailable.

  5. Stuey says:

    I’ve gotten a few fillings without novacaine, and it’s actually not as bad as you’d think. Just last week my wife went through the same. She didn’t crush my hand too badly, which confirms my “it’s not that bad” declaration.

    Still, I would not wanna have any work done via a foot-powered drill.

    Also, is it me, or does that chair look like an execution chair?

  6. MT says:

    Actually, cocaine is an excellent local anesthetic, and is probably what should be used. Lidocaine’s pretty common nowadays.

    No, it doesn’t look like an execution chair.

  7. isaiah says:

    i have one of these as part of a dental suit from the 1870s its made of cast iron and brass
    i got out of the store room of a dentist practice where it had sat along with a matching chair and spittoon since it was replaced in 1913 cost me only 378 pounds that’s why i love stupid people and eBay

    it is not rickety or weak at all its a very bomb proof peice of kit you can stamp down on the pedal as hard as you like and as fast as you like to get it spinning up to speed
    i would equate its working to a car engines pistons shooting up and down at high speed

    it sounds like constant drumming of the foot there amazingly well built

  8. Jim N says:

    I have one of these, and a similar type was used by my father in Sardinia where he was stationed with the US Army during WWII. The tool does get up to a pretty good speed and I’ve had a cleaning done with the one I own. It was fine, I assure you!

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