Dental Patient Chairs: New Designs Please Patients and Extend Careers

By Rebecca Stone April 29, 2019

The dental patient chairs of today are a far cry from those of earlier eras. From straight-backed models that conjure images of capital punishment to fringy Victorian numbers that must have been a nightmare to clean, pre-mid-20th century chairs were geared for standup dentistry.

With the advent of four-handed — or sit-down — dentistry, chair designers of the late 1950s and ’60s began to demonstrate a greater awareness of ergonomics — to the benefit of both dentists and their patients. After all, practitioners who maintain proper ergonomics are less likely to suffer from career-ending musculoskeletal disorders. Likewise, patients who are kept comfortable during treatment are more likely to be repeat customers and to spread the word about just how cutting-edge and comfy a practice is.

Importance of Adjustability

With a majority of contemporary clinicians operating from a seated position, flexibility in chair positioning becomes paramount in supporting ergonomic practice. And while most of today’s chairs rotate, tilt, change elevation, or move laterally, it’s the degree of mobility that can make a difference.1

Experts in ergonomics report that clinicians should be able to tilt chairs toward and away from them to enhance operational access and enhance patient comfort. With the push of a button, clinicians should also be able to adjust chairs vertically at heights that allow them to operate ergonomically, with their elbows at their sides.1

Chair Design

Among the important attributes of a well-designed chair for modern dentistry is an articulating headrest, which can work wonders in helping clinicians optimize access to the occlusal plane. Double articulating headrests can facilitate optimal positioning of the head to allow the best visibility of both upper and lower arches.1

Thin profiles with tapered backs allow greater mobility around the patient. This is especially true when base plates are positioned closer to the foot of the chair than the headrest. Such configurations allow maximum legroom for operators, who are able to get their knees under the chair back, allowing closer proximity to field of operation.1

Further upping the patient comfort level are armrests. Available to provide patients with support, they can also be designed to swing out of the way, easing ingress and egress, while not interfering with operator access.1

Smart Upholstery

Thanks to our current awareness of the importance of infection control, modern dental chairs are often seamlessly upholstered in materials such as medical-grade polyurethane synthetic over memory foam. This offers not only comfort but easy cleaning and disinfecting. Such materials are attractive, yet tough enough to withstand repeated cleanings and disinfection.1

Other accouterments that can take dental patient seating options to the next level include cushions, backrests and knee lifts. And, while not part of the actual chair per se, ancillary devices, such as the Zyris lineup of isolation and moisture control systems, can be directly connected to dental chair power supplies. Featuring a power vacuum base with a hose that’s easy to work around, the Isolite 3’s integrated control head and evacuation line are easy to clean and disinfect, while the mouthpiece offers dual-channel suction as it simultaneously retracts soft tissues and protects the patient’s airway.

But perhaps the most important aspect of all, when it comes to patient chairs, is ease of adjustability. A chair can have every bell and whistle available. But if a feature is difficult to adjust, evidence shows that more often than not, clinicians just won’t use it.2 And when you consider just how beneficial a finely adjusted patient chair can be — for all concerned — that would be a tragedy.



  1. Stone R. Seating arrangements. Mentor. 2014;5(8):22–26.
  2. Stone R. Latitude adjustments. Mentor. 2016;7(8):26–30.