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How dental drill is made

Background
The dental drill is a tool used by dentists to bore through tooth enamel
as well as to clean and remove plaque from the tooth's surface. It
is composed primarily of a handpiece, an air turbine, and a tungsten
carbide drill bit. Since its development began in the mid 1700s, the
dental drill has revolutionized the field of dentistry. The modern dental
drill has enabled dentists to work more quickly and accurately than ever
before, with less pain for the patient.
The teeth are composed of both living and nonliving tissue. The soft
tissue inner layer, called the dentin, is similar in composition to
skeletal bones. Enamel, the outer layer of teeth, which is highly
calcified and harder than bone, cannot be regenerated by the body. Tooth
decay, which damages to the enamel, is caused by various oral bacteria.
One type of bacteria that resides in the mouth breaks down residual food
particles that remain on teeth after eating. A byproduct of this
bacteria's metabolism is plaque. Other bacteria attach themselves
to this plaque and begin secreting an acid which causes small holes to
form in the tooth enamel. This allows still other types of bacteria to
enter these holes and crevices and erode the softer tissue below. The
process weakens the tooth by creating a cavity. The breakdown of the soft
tissue is responsible for the pain that is typically associated with
cavities. Beyond the initial holes, the outer enamel is left primarily
intact. Untreated, cavities can result in diseases such as dental caries
and abscesses.

To prevent these diseases, dentists use a dental drill or other tools to


remove the plaque from a cavity. As the tooth is drilled, the tiny diamond
chips that cover its tip wear away the plaque and damaged enamel. Only by
drilling into a tooth can dentists' ensure that all of the plaque
is removed. With the plaque gone from the teeth, the enamel-damaging
bacteria have nowhere to reside and cannot cause cavities. After the
drilling is complete, the hole that is left is filled with a suitable
material which strengthens the tooth and helps prevent further damage.
History
The earliest examples of dental drills were developed by the Mayans over
1,000 years ago. They used a stone tool made of jade, which was shaped as
a long tube and sharpened on the end. By twirling it between the palms, a
hole could be drilled into the teeth. They used this tool primarily in
conjunction with a religious ritual for putting jewels in the teeth.
Though this technology was ahead of its time, it was not known throughout
the rest of the world. The early Greek, Roman, and Jewish civilizations
also developed versions of a dental drill. While these early examples of
tooth drilling are found, during the Middle Ages the technology was lost.
In the mid 1600s, doctors discovered that temporary relief from dental
diseases could be achieved by filling the natural holes in teeth with
various substances. These early dentists even used a chisel to chip away
bits of the damaged enamel. However, it was not until Pierre Fauchard came
on the scene that dental drill technology was rediscovered.
Fauchard is said by some to be the father of modern dentistry. He first
mentions the use of a immediate dentures cost bow drill on teeth for root canals in a book
published in 1746. This device consisted of a long metal rod with a handle

and

Diagram of a dental drill. Although individual drills can vary in


design, they all include a motor, handpiece, couplings, and a drill
bit, or bur.
a bow that was used to power it. During this time, many innovations were
developed. One of these was the 1778 introduction of a near-mechanical
drill, which was powered by a hand crank that activated a rotating gear.
Soon afterward, an inventor added a spinning wheel to power the drill
head. The motion in this device was created by the dentist pushing a foot
pedal to move a spinning wheel, which in turn moved the drill head. Other
attempts at mechanical drills were made during the 1800s, but they were
hard to handle and inefficient, so most dentists used simple,
hand-operated steel drills.
Drill technology steadily improved over time, resulting in faster and more
efficient drills. New types of foot-powered engines were attached to
dental drills by 1870. Electrically powered drills soon followed, and the

time it took to prepare a cavity was decreased from hours to less than 10
minutes. High speed drills were developed in 1911, but it was not until
1953 that the modern dental drill with its air turbine engine was
introduced. These drills were over 100 times faster than their
predecessors and significantly reduced the pain associated with tooth
drilling. To accommodate these faster speeds, tungsten carbide drill bits
were introduced. Since then, manufacturers have made many modifications,
such as adding fiber optic lights and cameras, incorporating sophisticated
cooling systems, and making highly durable handpieces.
Design
There are various designs of dental drills available, however, each have
the same basic features, including motors, a handpiece, couplings, and a
drill bit. The high speed drilling is activated by an air turbine. These
devices convert highly pressurized air into mechanical energy, enabling
drill bits to rotate over 300,000 rpms. Slower speeds are also necessary
for things such as polishing, finishing, and soft tissue drilling,
so dental drills are typically equipped with secondary motors. Common
types include electric motors and air-driven motors.
The handpiece is typically a slender, tube-shaped device which connects
the drill bit with the driving motor. It is often light-weight and
ergonomically designed. It also has an E-shaped attachment that ensures
that the drill bit is properly angled for maximum system stability. These
components of the dental drill were once quite delicate. However, recent
health concerns have forced designers to develop handpieces that can
withstand high-pressure steam sterilization. The couplings are used to
connect the drill unit to the electric or air power sources and cooling

water. They can either consist of two or four holes, depending on the type
of fitting.

The drill bit, or bur, is the most important part of


the dental drill. It
is short and highly durable, able to withstand
high speed rotation and the
heat that is subsequently generated. Many bur
shapes are manufactured,
each with varying cutting and drilling abilities. Some burs are even
designed with diamond cutting flutes. Additional features may be added,
such as coolant spray systems or illumination devices. The most
sophisticated dental drill has an internal cooling system, an epicyclic
speed-increasing gearbox, and fiberoptic illumination.
Raw Materials
Dental drills are constructed from a variety of raw materials, including
metals and polymers. The handpiece, which houses the motors, gears, and
drive shaft, can be made from either lightweight, hard plastics or metal
alloys such as brass. The most advanced handpieces are made with titanium.
The bur is made of tungsten carbide, one of the hardest substances known.
Other materials such as steel are used for the internal motors. The tubing
that connects the drill to the main power sources is made of a flexible
material, such as polymeric silicone or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
The Manufacturing
Process
The production of a dental drill is an integrated process in which
individual components are first made and then assembled to make the final

product. While manufacturers could make each part individually, they


usually depend on outside suppliers for many of the parts. A typical
production method would include constructing the motors and the drill
bits, forming the handpiece, final assembly, and packaging.
Handpiece
1 Although numerous designs and materials are used to make the
handpiece, they are all typically made using a pre-formed mold. For
plastic handpieces, this involves injection molding, a process in which
the plastic is melted, injected into a mold, and released after it
forms. Metal handpieces also use a similar molding process.
Drill bit
2 The drill bits are formed from tungsten carbide particles. They are
made by first taking tungsten ore and chemically processing it to
produce tungsten oxides. Hydrogen is then added to the system to remove
the oxygen, resulting in a fine tungsten metal powder. This powder is
then blended with carbon and heated, producing tungsten carbide
particles of varying sizes. These particles are further processed to
form the appropriately shaped drill bit.
Air turbine engine
3 The air turbine engine is constructed from small steel components. In
one design, the turbine is sandwiched between two sets of ball raced
bearings and connected directly to the drill bit. The entire unit is
encased in the drill head, with openings for incoming air and exhaust
air. Other types of turbine engines are farther up in the handpiece and
are connected to the drill bit by a series of driveshafts and gears.
Low-powered motors

Final assembly
5 After all the components are available, final assembly can begin.
Depending on the design, the air turbine can be placed directly into
casing of the handpiece or it can be attached along with the drill bit.
The other parts of the drill are put into the handpiece, including air
or electric motors, driveshaft, gears, and control switches. Other
accessories are added, such as the cooling hoses and fiber optic
lighting devices. The coupler is placed on one end of the handpiece, and
the drill bit is attached to the other.
6 After an array of quality checks, the finished drills are placed in
the appropriate packaging, along with accessories, manuals, and
replacement parts, and are then shipped to distributors.
Quality Control
The quality of each drill component is checked during each stage of
manufacturing. Since many parts are made each day, inspecting all of them
is impossible. Therefore, line inspectors typically take random samples at
certain time intervals and check to ensure that those samples meet set
specifications for size, shape, and consistency. During this phase of
quality control, the primary testing method is visual inspection, although
more rigorous measurements can also be made.
The Future
During much of the developmental history of the dental drill, the focus of
research had been on increasing the speed of the drill bits and correcting
the problems related to these greater speeds. However, studies have shown
that there is no benefit to increasing the drill bit speed any higher than
it is today. Therefore, the focus of research has shifted to developing

altematives to conventional drills altogether. Two recent introductions


are noteworthy and may be indicative of the direction dentistry is headed.
A new method of treating cavities is known as "air-abrasive"
technology. Using this technique, a dentist blasts away parts of the tooth
surface without using a drill. Small particles of alumina are forced by a
stream of air, and the plaque is literally knocked off the tooth. Another
technology that may replace the dental drill is the laser. The
FDA has recently approved the use of a laser drill for use on the soft
tissue of teeth. However, approval for use on hard tissue is pending. This
technology may allow for quicker and more accurate drilling. The result of
both of these new technologies is optimal patient comfort as the pain and
noise associated with conventional drilling are eliminated.
Where to Learn More
Books
Jedynakiewicz, Nicolas.
A Practical Guide to Technology in Dentistry.
Wolfe Publishing, 1992.
Glenner, Richard, Audrey Davis, and Stanley Burns.
The American Dentist.
Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1990.
Simonsen, Richard.
Dentistry in the 21st Century A Global Perspective.
Quintessence Publishing Co., 1989.
Periodicals
Ring, Malvin. "Behind the Dentist's Drill."
Invention & Technology,

Fall 1995, pp. 25-31.


-Randy
Schueller
and
Perry
Romanowski