Updated on February 15, 2024
8 min read

What Are the Different Types of Dentist Tools?

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Dental hygiene is essential for maintaining good oral health. It keeps your teeth healthy and helps prevent oral issues like tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease.

Brushing and flossing daily is crucial, but regular dental exams and teeth cleanings with a dentist and professional hygienist are equally important. However, about 100 million people in the U.S. fail to see a dentist each year.1  

Research shows that dental anxiety is a common cause of skipped dental care.2 If you can relate, you’re not alone. Many people feel uncomfortable reclining in a dental chair surrounded by sharp instruments and vibrating tools.

Learning the names and uses of dental instruments can ease your mind before your next visit. Here’s a brief guide to professional dental tools used for cleanings and common dental procedures. 

Different Types of Dental Tools and Their Uses

Here are some of the most common dental instruments dentists and dental professionals use: 

Mouth Mirror

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Also called a dental mirror, this is one of the most common tools you’ll see at any dental practice. 

A mouth mirror is a small, round, and angled mirror at the end of a metal stick. Dental mirrors allow your dentist to view all surfaces of your teeth and oral cavity. It’s an important tool for hygienists while they clean your teeth.

Probes

A probe is another common dental tool. There are various types of probes, but the most common are:

Dental Explorer

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A dental explorer, or sickle probe, is a metal stick with a hook-shaped tip. It is also called a dental explorer because it’s used to check for oral issues like cavities. Your dentist may also use it to remove plaque from your teeth.

Periodontal Probe

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A periodontal probe is like a mini ruler with a blunt tip. It measures pockets of gum recession, a sign of periodontal disease (gum disease).

Dental Scaler

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A dental scaler is necessary to remove more significant areas of plaque and tartar buildup above the gum line. 

Brushing and flossing effectively remove plaque and tiny food particles from your teeth. But sometimes, plaque hardens into calculus and can’t be removed by brushing. At this point, it must be carefully removed with a dental instrument, such as a scaler.

Curette

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A curette is similar to a scaler in that it’s used to remove calculus (hardened plaque). A curette is specifically designed to remove calculus below the gum line without damaging your gums. 

Polisher

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A dental hygienist will use this tool to polish each tooth at the end of a cleaning. A polisher is a stainless steel, hand-held electrical tool with a spinning rubber cap at the end. 

The polisher applies a mildly abrasive paste to your teeth. This removes stains from your teeth. It also smoothes the surface of the tooth enamel, which prevents plaque from accumulating on your teeth. 

Dental Drill

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When it comes to fears about dental tools, the high-pitched sound and vibrations of a dental drill usually top the list. However, this important dental instrument is nothing to worry about. 

A dental drill has a dental bur at the end, which:

  • Removes tooth decay 
  • Shapes teeth for crowns
  • Smoothes teeth 
  • Repairs chipped teeth 

A dental drill can cause an uncomfortable sensation. This is because it sends vibrations through your tooth and gums. To reduce discomfort, your dentist may inject a local anesthetic before dental treatment. 

Dental Syringe

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If your dentist needs to administer a local anesthetic to numb your gums and teeth before dental surgery or treatment, they’ll use a dental syringe.

In addition to numbing medicine, a dental syringe may be used to dispense air or water during dental treatment.

Cotton Pliers

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These look like small tongs or tweezers with tapered points bent at an angle. Cotton pliers are used to handle small items, such as cotton, while your dentist places or removes them from your mouth.

This tool allows your dentist to place things in precise locations in your mouth.

Spoon Excavator

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A spoon excavator is another metal stick tool similar to a probe. The end is shaped like a small spoon. The spoon excavator allows your dentist to remove decay from the soft center of a tooth cavity. 

Suction Device

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Also called a saliva ejector, the suction device is like a tiny vacuum that removes saliva from your mouth.

Your dentist may need a dry surface while they are exploring your mouth with a sickle probe. The saliva ejector makes this possible. Your dentist may also use it to remove excess water during dental procedures that require dispensing water into your mouth.

X-Ray

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An X-ray can provide a detailed view of the internal structure of the teeth and bones of your mouth. There are two main types of X-rays used in dentistry:

Intraoral X-Ray

Intraoral X-rays are often taken while you sit in the dental chair. They involve placing a small film or sensor inside your mouth. 

Intraoral X-rays can show: 

  • Bitewing — molars and premolars.
  • Periapical — two to three whole teeth at a time, from the crown to the root of each tooth.
  • Palatal or occlusal — all the upper and lower front teeth in one image.

Extraoral X-Ray

This type of X-ray is also called a panoramic or OPG X-ray. An extraoral dental x-ray can help your dentist find:

  • The number and position of the teeth — for planning orthodontic treatment, such as braces and dental implants.
  • Pathology —  like cysts and tumors.

Dental Light

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This is a bright light that helps dentists see clearly during dental examinations and treatments.

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Another type of dental light is the curing light, which emits ultraviolet light rays to harden dental resin. 

Molds

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Molds involve filling small trays with a liquid or gel-like substance you bite into. This hardens to form dental impressions. The impression gets filled with plaster, which creates a perfect model of your teeth and surrounding structures. 

Dentists use molds to identify problems and create customized treatments such as crowns and mouth guards

What Comes in a Dental Kit?

The specific contents of a dental hygiene kit may vary. Common tools include:

  • Toothbrush — a soft-bristled toothbrush is a fundamental tool for gentle and effective daily oral hygiene. 
  • Tongue scraper — a tongue scraper or cleaner helps remove bacteria and debris that cause bad breath.
  • Dental floss — string floss is a common way to remove plaque, food particles, and bacteria from between your teeth and along your gum line. 
  • Interdental brushes or picks — these are specifically designed to clean between teeth in tight spaces, such as crowded teeth, or around braces.
  • Dental mirror — some dental kits include a small mouth mirror, which can help you check for plaque behind your teeth. 
  • Dental scaler — consult your dentist about whether you should use a scaler to carefully scrape plaque buildup from your teeth at home.

What is a Dental Hygiene Kit?

A dental hygiene kit is a collection of tools designed to help you maintain clean teeth and a healthy mouth. Also called an oral hygiene kit or dental cleaning kit, it includes dental instruments you can use to clean your teeth, gums, and mouth at home. 

How Do You Use a Dental Hygiene Kit?

An oral hygiene kit is meant to maintain healthy teeth and gums at home. It’s not a replacement for dental cleanings and exams from trained dental professionals. 

Dental hygiene kits are available at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online retailers. They’re convenient for maintaining good oral hygiene between visits with your dental hygienist and dentist. 

Properly using the tools included in a dental hygiene kit is crucial. Follow the included instructions and use each tool carefully and gently. Always ask a dental professional for personalized advice and guidance.

How Have Dental Tools Evolved Over Time?

The earliest dental instruments were sharp, pointed stones that likely served the same purpose as modern dental tools. Fortunately, dental tools have changed over the years.

Here are some key ways in which dental tools have evolved:

  • Ergonomics and design — modern dental tools are ergonomically designed, which provides dentists with better grip and control. 
  • Diagnostic tools — digital X-rays provide a more detailed, accurate image than traditional X-rays.
  • Anesthesia — local anesthesia and topical numbing medicines reduce pain and discomfort during dental procedures. 

Common Questions About Dental Tools

What tool do dentists use to scrape teeth?

Dentists and dental hygienists typically use scalers to scrape plaque and tartar from your teeth. They may also use a sickle probe to scrape plaque from the tight spaces between your teeth. 

Is it okay to scrape plaque off my teeth at home?

You should avoid using dental tools to scrape your teeth at home. Instead, schedule a cleaning with a dental professional.

Dental instruments are sharp. Using them improperly can result in accidental damage to your tooth enamel, gums, or mouth. A soft-bristled toothbrush and floss should be effective at removing plaque at home.

How do dentists remove hardened plaque?

Dental professionals remove hardened plaque, also called calculus, with a curette or dental scaler. 

What tools does a dental hygienist use to clean your teeth?

Dental hygienists use several tools to clean your teeth. The most common include a mouth mirror, scaler, curette, and polisher. 

Summary

Good dental hygiene helps prevent oral issues like tooth decay and periodontal disease. It involves daily tooth brushing and flossing, as well as regular exams and cleanings.

Dental professionals use several types of tools to clean teeth and gums. The most common dental tools include mirrors, probes, and scalers. Depending on the procedure, other tools may include a dental drill, pliers, or suction device.

Dental hygiene kits are available in stores and online. However, dental tools are sharp and should only be used by trained dental professionals. Talk to your dentist before using a dental cleaning kit at home.

Last updated on February 15, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 15, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Your Top 9 Questions About Going to the Dentist—Answered!” American Dental Association, 2023.
  2. Appukuttan, DP. “Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, 2016.
  3. Sahi, A. “Tooth Polishing Procedure.” News Medical Life Sciences, 2018.
  4. Tooth Decay.” National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  5. Uzun, B. et al. “Optimization of Dental Devices and Tools Used on Teeth.” BioMed Research International, 2021.
  6. Turner, M. “The Official 2022 Must-Have Toolkit for Every Dental Hygienist.” RDH Magazine, 2022.
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