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Beginners Guide to Dental Instruments

You’ll find most people despise the dentist whether they have good teeth or not. While many dental procedures aren’t painful, many people have developed a fear of visiting the dentist (often known as “odontophobia”) and would rather put up with dental infections, pain or even broken/unsightly teeth in order to avoid a visit to the dentist. However, there are remedies for these fears. One such remedy is simply knowing and understanding the instruments used by your dentist as well as what they do. Often a simple understanding is enough to calm the nerves and put your mind at ease.

Mouth Mirrors

A mouth mirror or dentist’s mirror is an instrument used within dentistry. The head of the mirror is usually round, and the most common sizes used are 18mm and 20mm. The mouth mirror has a range of uses, including; allowing indirect vision by the dentist, reflecting light onto desired surfaces and retraction of soft tissue.

Periodontal Probe

A periodontal probe is an instrument used within dentistry, it usually has a long, thin and blunted end. Its primary use is to measure pocket depths around the tooth in order to establish the state of health of the periodontium (specialised tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth). Most periodontal probes have markings on the head in order to allow accurate and precise readings.

Briault Probe

A briault probe is similar to a periodontal probe but has a sharp end to it. Briault probes are most commonly used to detect caries on the mesial and distal (in between) surfaces of your teeth. It can also be used to detect hidden pockets of tartar building up in the periodontal pockets.

Sickle Probe

Sometimes also referred to as a dental explorer, a sickle probe is a sharp ended explorer. In the past this tool was used to probe teeth for the presence of cavities, but is now questioned as the use of a sharp explorer to diagnose caries in pit and fissure sites is no longer recommended practise. Instead clinicians recommend “sharp eyes and a blunt explorer or probe”.

Dental Retractors

A dental retractor is used by dentists and oral surgeons to move the cheeks, lips and tongue out of the way so the mouth and teeth are exposed and accessible. There are various types of dental retractors, used for different procedures.

Dental Drill

A dental drill is a small handheld, high-speed drill used during dental procedures. It is most commonly used to remove decay and shape teeth prior to insertion of a filling or crown, a dental drill can also be used in cleaning and shaping of root canals, or even removing old or temporary fillings and crowns.

Dental Burs

Dental burs are essential cutters which are used with a handpiece with removable heads. The burs are often made of diamond or tungsten carbide for strength. There are three parts to dental burs; the head, the neck & the shank, with the heads of some burs containing the blades which remove material from teeth. Burs come in various shapes and sizes for different procedures.


Excavators are often double headed instruments used by dentists for the main purpose of removing carious dentine from teeth, depending on the cavity that needs to be prepared there are various sizes and shapes of excavators.


Curettes are small hand tools used in surgical instruments designed to remove subgingival calculus. The tips of curettes come in various sizes and shapes, but they’re always rounded at the tip to ensure cleansing is less traumatic to the gingiva.


A burnisher can be a single or double headed tool available in various sizes for the purpose of smoothing and/or polishing amalgam fillings and polishing composite fillings, as well as emphasising grooves or removing excess filling material on the surface of the tooth.


Osteotomes are instruments designed to compress, cut or deform bone, often used in dental surgery treatments in order to enhance the placement of dental implants and ensure a stable fit. This ensures the implant looks natural and cause little to no discomfort during recovery.

Coupland’s Elevators

Coupland’s elevators (Also simply known as chisels) are instruments used for dental extractions. They’re often used in set of three, each of increasing size and are used in order to split multi-rooted teeth. They’re inserted between the bone and tooth roots and rotated to elevate and extract the tooth out of the socket.


Syringes are required for procedures that are known to cause some pain; a numbing or freezing agent will be administered using the syringe


Tweezers are used to place and remove small items like cotton wool pellets into the mouth safely.

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