One of a dentist’s largest capital expenses is outfitting their practice with the equipment necessary for treating patients, especially the dental chair around which all operatories are built. The dental chair, also called a treatment chair or patient chair, is crucial to a positive experience for both patients and practitioners. The Chair Institute defines a dental chair as a “specially designed medical device intended to support a patient’s whole body, like a recliner, but articulated, so that the dentist can recline patients to virtually any position .”
When buying a dental chair—generally used for ten or more years—it’s important to invest in a quality product that will hold up beautifully. Deciding which of these highly engineered devices to put into your practice requires careful consideration. In this article, we will look at how dental chairs have evolved, explore tips for purchasing the right chair and consider current dental chair costs and maintenance requirements.
Brief History of Patient Chairs in Dentistry
Designs throughout the history of dental chairs have sought to improve positioning and comfort for the patient and practitioner alike. The first documented modification to a chair for the purpose of treating dental patients was in 1790, when Dr. Josiah Flagg of New England added a headrest, wider armrests and an attached instrument tray to a wooden writing chair.
Throughout the next two centuries, dentists devised various incremental improvements to make chairs safer and more comfortable for patients and themselves, including the addition of a footrest, plush upholstery, and eventually a spittoon and an attached x-ray device. In the mid-to-late 1800s, dental equipment manufacturers commercialized dental chairs with designs that used more metal and less wood (among other upgrades), allowing them to be more easily sanitized.
Most impactful during this period were innovations that enabled dentists to raise, lower, tilt or recline the chair to move patients into a better position to access the oral cavity.
Then in 1958, inventor John Naughton of Des Moines, Iowa, worked with Dr. John Anderson to create the Den-Tal-Ez J-Chair®. Widely regarded as the first modern dental chair, the J-Chair featured a split back that allowed the patient to be put in a supine position so the dentist could get as close to the patient’s head as possible . This invention set the stage for sit-down dentistry, the way dentists around the world still practice today. While DENTALEZ ended production of the J-Chair in 2016 to make way for newer models, it remains an icon of the American dental industry, with the original enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. For an in-depth discussion about the history and future of our entire equipment line, check out our recent interview with DENTALEZ equipment experts.
Basic Expectations for a Dental Chair
So how should you go about choosing the best chair for your needs? Understanding what other dentists look for in a dental chair is a great place to start.
What a patient first lays eyes on when they enter your operatory often influences how assured and calm they will be once their treatment commences, so dentists may look at a new chair through the patient’s eyes. How does the chair look at first sight? Does it look sturdy and well made? How about modern and clean, but still soft and inviting?
DENTALEZ’s Forest 3900 chair has designer-friendly finish options that no other dental chair supplier offers, such as nine powder-coat paint colors that can also be applied to the delivery unit and operatory light. Ultraleather® upholstery is standard, with 17 available colors and the option to customize the look with our dual color or contrast stitch options. For a final custom touch, the chair is finished with standard chrome accents . With so many options, you are sure to find the perfect combination to suit your office aesthetic.
Build and Stability
Reputable dental chair manufacturers recommend doing a “test drive,” the first part of which is determining its build and stability. What materials is it made of? Metals and heavy, pressure-formed plastics will outlast thinner plastics through the rigors of everyday use and cleaning.
How stable is the chair when empty and when a person is sitting in it? If you try to rock it back and forth, how much does it move? It should not move at all when placed on a solid, level floor. A heavy metal base is important to make the chair stable. All DENTALEZ’s chair bases, made of cast aluminum, are solid, stable, and rust and corrosion resistant.
Speed of Movement and Range of Motion
Speed and smoothness of movement in a dental chair are very important. Dentists with different patient populations and different treatment specialties may require chairs that move at different speeds. For example, oral surgeons, whose patients are often coming out of anesthesia at the end of their visit, often want a slower moving chair to minimize disorientation and falls. By contrast, a general dentist who sees many patients in a day may want a faster moving chair that helps get patients in and out of the chair efficiently.
Dental chair positioning is also an important factor considered by dentists, as it determines their comfort level as they treat patients throughout the day. Dentists who primarily sit or treat older patients or others with limited mobility may like a chair that can get very low to assist those patients getting in and out. A taller dentist or one who prefers to stand frequently may want a chair that goes higher than usual, so they can treat patients at a comfortable height.
The AirGlide system in DENTALEZ’s NuSimplicity™ chairs allows the chair to be moved as though it is on wheels, so you can easily move the chair for cleaning, bring the chair to the patient, or even move the patient around. This is an excellent option for low-mobility patients or older offices that may have an X-ray machine located elsewhere.
Since chair controls are in constant use throughout the day, they need to be accessible and reliable. Dentists often want to know how many control panels there are and where they can be located around the chair. Additionally, are they user-friendly and easy to clean? DENTALEZ’s control panels, with four programmable presets, can be mounted to the side of the chair, to the doctor’s or assistant’s delivery system, or even to the 12 o’clock delivery unit. A foot control is yet another option for moving the chair. You also have the option to equip your operatory with controls in multiple locations for added flexibility.
Since neck discomfort is the number one comfort-related patient complaint, dentists want a headrest that is as adaptable as possible. They want to be confident that they can meet the patient’s head where it is most comfortable for the patient, while also achieving the angles they need for various treatment positions. A headrest that is double articulating (up and down, backward and forward), helps them achieve this. The metal construction of DENTALEZ’s headrest allows for smooth movement and easy reversal to accommodate patients in wheelchairs.
Dentists also want a headrest and chair back that are large enough to accommodate patients of all sizes, but narrow and thin enough to allow them to get up close and adjust the headrest for access on both sides of the patient’s head. Getting their legs under the seat back and their torso close to the headrest allows them to work more upright, minimizing the musculoskeletal issues that cause many dentists to retire early.
Armrests should be sturdy enough to put weight on while being easy to move out of the way, allowing patients to enter and exit the chair unimpeded. All DENTALEZ dental chairs have armrests that meet these requirements, with full metal construction and a design that swings down and out of the way instead of out into the room.
Standard Features and Configuration Options
Dentists want to know what equipment comes standard with the chair and what are upgrades. They also want to know what options they have for configuring and mounting that equipment. They’ll often want the assistant’s or hygienist’s instrumentation to be mounted to the back of the chair, so it can swing out to the opposite side of the chair for quick access. Some dentists prefer to have no equipment mounted to the chair, but instead to the cabinets and ceilings.
A dental chair “test drive” should also include sitting in the chair personally to gauge its overall comfort. Dentists want to experience first-hand what their patients will feel when they sit in the chair. They are concerned with how well it supports the patient’s head, neck, lumbar region and knees. DENTALEZ Forest chairs are made with different types of foam hand-selected to ensure a plush but supportive experience for the patient.
And finally, is the dental chair upholstery soft and inviting? DENTALEZ’s Ultraleather® upholstery is softer and more durable than classic leather or vinyl. Optional neck and knee pillows, finished to match your chair, put your patient in a more naturally relaxing position for treatment.
Here are some additional things to consider that dentists often want to know about, but may overlook:
- How much weight will the chair support?
- What are the options for configuring the dental unit and instruments?
- Are the chair surfaces easy to clean with standard dental office cleaners?
- Is the chair made of premium materials, which contribute to patient comfort and longevity of the chair?
- Is the chair base made of materials that will not leave a rust or corrosion mark on your floor?
- What is the documented longevity of the chair model and is its lift system easy to maintain? ( uses hydraulic lift mechanisms that are powerful and quiet, yet highly reliable.)
- Is there a stop feature at the bottom of the lift mechanism to prevent it from crushing an object that might have fallen beneath the chair?
- Does the company have a good reputation for warranty and customer service?
A Dentist’s Checklist for Test Driving a Dental Chair
Our previously published article, “Choosing the Best Dental Chair,” is summarized here as a quick guide to “test driving” or “kicking the tires” of a dental chair in the showroom:
- Visually assess the chair for overall look and feel, sturdiness and quality. Notice the materials used and build quality. Ask questions about the design and engineering.
- Get in the chair and notice your comfort level in different positions, feel the upholstery.
- Have someone else sit in the chair and use the controls to recline the seat back and raise and lower the chair. Observe the movement. Is it jerky or smooth? Fast or slow? Loud or quiet? Are the controls easy to find and use?
- Move the chair to the highest setting, and grab onto it, and try to gently rock it back and forth. Is it moving a lot, a little or not at all?
- Now move the chair Is the patient’s oral cavity easily accessible from all angles?
- Sit on the dental stool and maneuver up close around the patient’s head. Can you get your knees, hips, wrists and neck all where you want them?
- If you use an assistant, imagine where they will be during procedures. Are the controls and equipment all easily accessible to them? Ask about standard and optional configurations.
- Adjust the headrest. Is it easy to move both with and without the patient’s head on it?
- Adjust the armrests. Are they quick and easy to move out of the way?
Dental Chair Parts and Maintenance
Since dental chairs are a long-term investment, they require regular maintenance and, at some point, may need repair. When you are doing your chair “test drive,” make sure to ask about the user manual and maintenance instructions. A reputable equipment manufacturer should be able to supply you with a well written and concise manual, and they should be able to review it with you before or during the purchase. They should discuss day-to-day as well as medium and longer-term maintenance requirements with you.
Ask whether you can clean your chair with industry-standard cleaners and disinfectants. DENTALEZ chairs can be cleaned with an intermediate disinfectant, such as CaviCide, on any part of the chair except the upholstery, which requires just warm water and soap.
This is also the time to ask about the product warranty and to verify that the company you are considering is a reputable manufacturer with a track record of designing, manufacturing and servicing dental chairs. With the money you’ll be investing in this equipment, you don’t want to discover too late that the company has poor customer service, or worse, has gone out of business. DENTALEZ has been making and servicing dental chairs for more than 60 years and has a stellar reputation for customer service. Our dental chairs carry a 5-year warranty (2 years for upholstery). You can learn more about our warranty program here.
Dental Chair Costs
Dental chair prices vary widely, from just a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for an old used or refurbished chair, to upwards of $20,000 for a brand new high-end chair (without any additional equipment).
The lowest end new chairs on the market, available for a few thousand dollars, will get you a basic chair made with inexpensive electronics, plastics and vinyl and few to no options. A chair in this category will likely sacrifice patient comfort and support, and in the long run may cost more. If it encounters any problems, manufacturers are known to lead customers toward buying a new chair rather than servicing the original.
Reputable dental chair manufacturers price their chairs from $8,000 to $17,000. DENTALEZ Forest chairs fall in the lower end of that reputable range, at $8,000 to $10,000. While there are higher-end chairs on the market, we have focused on the most important elements so that you are getting the most intrinsically valued features at a reasonable price: patient comfort, patient access, product longevity, dedicated customer service and tech support that is second to none. At DENTALEZ, we use the highest quality bearings, hydraulics, surface treatments and electronics available, while placing an even greater focus on gaps, tolerances, fit and finish than our competition.
We also offer two chair models, NuSimplicity™ and Core™, in our DENTALEZ Heritage Equipment catalog, available only online.
More Information about Buying Dental Chairs
We hope that you have found this article helpful in your purchasing journey. We have knowledgeable customer service and salespeople ready to answer any other questions you may still have. If you would like to learn more about DENTALEZ’s Forest and Heritage dental chairs, contact a representative today!
 Chair Institute. “Brief History and the Various Types of Dental Chairs Available Today.” Chair Institute, July 13, 2021, https://chairinstitute.com/types-of-dental-chairs/.