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Dental tools have been used since the earliest days of human civilization. As long ago as 7000 BCE in the Indus Valley, which included present-day Pakistan, craftsmen treated tooth-related problems with a bow drill normally used for making fire or woodworking. Now, thousands of years later, dentists use a wide array of specialized instrumentation. Dentistry, as all other health care fields, continues to be enhanced by the latest technological advances. Laser technology, for example, is expected to replace the standard dental drill that presently causes many patients discomfort with its irritating sound and vibrations.
When a patient goes for a general dental checkup, the dentist uses a number of different types of hand-held stainless steel probes or sharp-pointed tools. The most common ones are called the sickle or contra-angled probes. By softly poking the sharp end of these instruments into the patient's teeth and gums, the dentist can measure the depth of the gum pockets and look for holes in the enamel to determine gum and tooth decay. The probes can also locate fissures and problems that are developing with a crown or bridge.
While the dentist or dental hygienist is working on a patient, an excess amount of saliva will accumulate in the mouth. A suction instrument, called a saliva ejector, removes the accumulated moisture. Rolls of cotton are also used to absorb blood, dental debris and saliva. Normally, the suction device is placed in the patient's lower jaw area inside the bottom row of teeth to pick up excess moisture during the procedures.
The dentist's drill has a quickly rotating bit that makes holes in the tooth to remove decayed material, or plaque, from a cavity. While the tooth is being drilled, tiny diamond chips on the drill's tip erode the plaque and damaged enamel. Once the plaque is removed from the tooth, the bacteria have nowhere else to live, so no more decay can occur. The hole is then filled with a material that makes the tooth stronger and helps prevent further damage. The dental drill bit, or bur, is very durable and able to withstand the high amount of heat that is generated with the fast rotation. A number of different bur shapes are produced, each having its own cutting capabilities.
Dentists use a round mirror at the end of a stainless steel pen-like handle to see into hidden parts of the mouth and teeth. They are particularly looking for gums that are red, swollen or bleeding, decayed teeth and areas where tartar is heavily built up. When dentists cannot see with the mouth mirror's indirect vision, they will use the mirror to reflect light from above the patient's chair onto dark internal surfaces.
Dental forceps, which extract teeth, consists of a beak, neck and handle. The beak is made to grab a tooth that is located in a specific part of the mouth. It is designed to fit tightly around the tooth. The forceps' beak, for example, may be especially angled to extract the upper canines, upper laterals, or bicuspids. Because of their function, these instruments are also called extracting forceps.
Filling instruments are used to fill gaps around the teeth and gums. These long-handled tools have flat, thick ends to push the filling material with the necessary amount of pressure. They completely fill the open gaps. Dental cavity filling instruments are made in both single-end and double-end versions. They also come in different sizes and styles.