Ten Interesting Facts About the Dentist’s Drill

Ten Interesting Facts About the Dentist’s Drill

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Dental Drill Spraying Water
©Aslysun/Shutterstock.com

1 – There are two main types of dental drills: the high-speed and the slow-speed.  The high-speed drill rotates around 250,000 RPM.  That means it spins around more than 4,000 times each second!

Even the relatively slow dental drill rotates at about 8,000 RPM.  By comparison, this DeWalt Drill is three times slower with a top speed of 2,500 RPM.

2 – After using the dental drill on your tooth for 30 seconds, your dentist is subjected to as much bacteria as they would be had you sneezed right in their face (Source).  That’s one of the reasons most dentists wear face masks.

3  – The high-speed dental drill shoots out water as it spins, as you can see in the photo above.  If it didn’t, the friction would cause your tooth to get so hot during a filling that it could possibly damage the nerve inside your tooth.

Diamond Coated Dental Drill Bit

4 – Many dentists now refer to the dental drill as a handpiece to make it seem more friendly and enticing.

5 – The dental drill has to withstand the rigors of sterilization after every use, which means it gets heated to 250° Fahrenheit with pressurized steam for at least 15 minutes.

6 – The very first dental drill appears to have been a bow drill used by an ancient civilization about 9,000 years ago.

7 – The drill bits that dentists use are made of tungsten-carbide.  Some have blades to cut teeth, like in the photo below, and others are coated with diamonds to give a sandpaper-like smoothing effect (see photo below).

Carbide Dental Burs with Cutting Blades

8 – As recently as the early 20th century, many dentists used drills that were powered by a pedal that the dentist would pump with his foot.

9 – The distinct shrill sound that the high-speed dental drill makes can be a major factor in people’s fear of the dentist.  Even for those who don’t have dental fear, the dental drill’s noise can be very unpleasant.

10 – Dental drills can be expensive, with many costing over $1,000.  That’s a lot more expensive than your average home-improvement drill.

Questions?

Do you have any questions about the dental drill?  Want to share an experience you’ve had with the dentist’s drill?  Leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

29 COMMENTS

  1. I recently was in dental chair and heard dentist telling assistant as he was testing the drill speed, that it was turned up too high and needed to be turned down. he left office and returned, and tested again. He then went to drill an old filling out to replace it because the filling had further decay underneath and he broke my tooth on top.
    He never said why it broke, and my decay was below the filling not on top..so I wonder why my tooth broke and why he didnt offer to restore the tooth back to the way it was. with no broken pieces on top.
    High speed drills can break teeth if the speed or drill is turned up to high or if he is using the wrong kind.
    I dont want a lawsuit, just want my tooth back to the way it was.
    The silver filling has decay underneath, how does this happen when I have good oral hygeine?

    • Lana, I’m not a dentist (yet) NOR am I the owner of this website. I understand how frustrating the situation you’ve described must be. I think it’s important to realize, though, that the mouth is an extremely complex and high-stress environment. Dentists can only fix what they can see or otherwise measure with the diagnostic tools available to them. The best dentist in the world could have cleaned up your last cavity and placed the silver filling to the highest-quality standards and it could still show recurrent decay under the filling. This could result from just about anything – even microscopic defects in the filling material or the tooth itself that allow food and water to penetrate underneath the filling. Once that has happened, no amount of tooth brushing will be able to clean in such “invisibly-small” nooks and crannies where bacteria love to hang out and produce acid.

      Every dentist sets their own policies on how to handle cases like this, whether to restore the defect at full, reduced, or zero-price to the patient. Most dentists are very reasonable and are taught in school that it pays financially to keep their patients happy rather than make a quick buck and lose a single patient PLUS their family, referrals, etc. Good luck and keep smiling! It’s time for me to get back to studying…

    • Hi Lana, I had an experience kinda like yours I think. I knw think the dentist used a high speed drill cause he was in a hurry and didn’t use the best drill for the job. I’ll leave my story with this reply.
      Any thoughts anybody ?
      I had a tooth filled in a normal dental visit.
      The tooth had chipped. I was a sedation patent but when I woke up in the chair, that tooth hurt like I’ve never felt in my life !
      The dentist said I hd a deep cavity. All the numbing wore off after I got home. I could feel air transfer thru my nose out my mouth through that tooth.. I thought I would faint with pain. The dental office Sid I had to wait 4 weeks for an appt even though I cried to them for 4 weeks.
      Finally after 4.5 weeks, they gave me an apt just to look at issue. My face was swollen with puss coming from my gums.
      The X-rays showed a huge red line going across my tooth gum line. Dentist said it was infected 2 teeth were he had filled cavity. I was immediately sedated and had oxygen put around face and nose as I was sedated. I lost 2 teeth and took 3 months to recover from all of that and lost 30 pounds. Iy was horrifying. I now think the dentist erupted my tooth. What do you think ?

  2. I love these facts. As a freelancer I’d like to use them in a trivia column. Can I do that by providing proper copyright credit? Who would I give as my source? Thanks so much.

  3. Also, I had a huge hole filled on Monday. Monday all day I took pain killers and was in a lot of pain. This morning I really didn’t feel much pain just sensitivity. Tonight, all of a sudden, while I was minding my own business–and not eating or chewing!–I had a spasm in my tooth. The nerve went crazy. Then some smaller spasms followed all night. I wonder what that could mean. I have terrible teeth, live at my dentist’s office practically but never had spasms. Does that mean I must need the filling removed and get a temporary filling. The Dentist did mention it was close to the nerve. Why is it suddenly spasming after a whole day? Is there any possibility for the nerve to recede under the filling as it usually does or is this an indication I must get a root canal or at least someone to kill the nerve ending????? I am more scared than in pain.

  4. Even more than all of the above, can I wait over the weekend to see if things will quiet down or do I need immediate help?

  5. I have a question: let’s say a dentist hit my Front tooth while pulling out the dental drill (while filling a cavity on my back teeth). There seems to be no visible sign of damage, should I be concerned? I have been feeling a slight pain since it happened, but am unsure if it is from the other teeth (maybe the filled teeth a pushing on my front tooth).

    I would appreciate any info you can provide.

    When he pulled the drill out he kinda caught the back of my front tooth, he didn’t say anything though.

    • Hi.. I had the same experience with my dentist, and now my front tooth is so sensitive even to air.
      I see a visible scratch on the enamel and it also hurts so bad throughout the day. Not sure what I have to do, should I wait for it to go away or should i go back to the dentist.

  6. Hi Doctor Tom,

    Today I’ve gone through composite filling to one of my teeth. After that the Doctor said I’ve started bone loss which is just started. Though he explained something, I dint understand what is meant by bone loss, and what are the precautions to stop it and to have a long lasting healthy tooth.

  7. I used to have a big fear of the dentist!! It was that damn sound of the drill and it made the hair stand up on my neck and arms!! I met one dentist and he really helped me overcome my fear of the dentist and the drills. Now I can go into the chair without fear and if we have to drill, doesn’t phase me no more!! I’ve had one root canal and didn’t feel a thing, and four fillings in my front teeth. My dentist is the best and his staff is awesome!!! Drill Schrill!!! BRING IT ON!!!!

  8. I went to the dentist today for a filling in the front of my mouth snd the water from the drill was shooting up my nose Iam I gonna get a sinus ingestion now there is slot of Bactria in your mouth

    • Hi Denise – The water that comes right out of the drill is clean tap water. It’s unlikely that any water would have gone into your mouth then up to your nose. I haven’t heard of a sinus infection being caused by this, especially since the water coming out of the drill should be clean drinking water. I hope that helps!

  9. dentist started drilling the pain from cold water was awful and all treatment has been stopped,if the tooth starts being painful I have to go to dental hospital to pull it out .

  10. I had a really large feeling in the back of my mouth on the top so the dentist begged and pleaded with me to get a crown because in my opinion they wanted to make insurance money so I let them do it because they claimed there was a minor crack in the filling and that I was doing the right thing.during the preparation process of removing the old filling the drill bit broke and he said something about it to the assistant now 5 days later my tooth and gum are so sore and painful I cannot sleep so my question is did he use a drill bit that was too strong after the first one broke because he did not want to break any more or is it possible that by using a new drill bit it could have done damage to my toothe? mind you this tooth had no pain or problems before they just wanted to do a crown like I said in my opinion so that they could make money off my insurance.I am NOT scheduled to go back for the crown until about 2 weeks from now I’m thinking this thing is going to hurt until then and I’m not sure if it is going to resolve after the crown

    • Tagmaster,
      From what you have described you really were due for a crown. I don’t think the dentist was just trying to make money off your insurance. The posterior teeth in a human mouth are capable of producing massive amount of pressure during Fillings, all of them, weaken teeth. The question the dentist faces each time is: is the extent to which this filling will weaken the tooth an acceptable risk/benefit ratio over the alternative, ie a crown, do nothing, pull the tooth, etc. Fillings weaken teeth and crowns make them stronger. If the filling was really big, and you plan on keeping that tooth, then it absolutely needs a crown. A big filling in posterior tooth is asking for trouble sooner or later. Better to crown it now and avoid the possibility of snapping it clean in half down the roots.
      As far as the sensitivity…that’s a really complicated issue. Tooth sensitivety can be caused by a LOT of different factors and have a lot of precipitating causes, some avoidable and others not. If there was no sensitivety before the crown prep, then cementing the crown in place should probably take care of it, but be sure to talk to your dentist about the sensitivity before he cements the final crown in place.

      • thank you all for your help I know that sometimes dentist can become depressed because all of the complaining that people do but please understand that you are doing much more good than harm despite how it may appear but my question is since he broke the first drill bit is it possible that he used a stronger drill bit so that he wouldn’t have to worry about it breaking again thus causing more trauma? or is it possible that some dentist remove too much filling material or go a little bit overboard with the drill when cleaning out the cavity?this place is not privately owned so quite frankly I have my doubts about the quality of dentist that come and go ,thank you in advance for any future help but I really am wondering about this drill bit issue and whether or not some drill bits are too strong for the job or if some dentists go a little bit haywire when removing the old fillingthanks in advance for your answer. much appreciated.,Tagmaster

        • Tag master,
          The primary reason dentists remove old fillings is because the tooth has begun to decay underneath the old filling. Therefore, every time a filling is replaced the new filling is little bigger than the old one. Dentists use many different kinds of “bits” to drill in teeth, but the “strength” of the but isn’t really an issue. A “bit” or bur can break after repeated use but usually there is no indication that a bur is about to break because the weakening that leads up to the bur breaking is not visible. The but your dentist put in his drill after the first one broke was likely the exact style of bur he had been using before or one very similar. So I dont think your sensitivety is caused by the kind of bur the dentist used. Like I said before, tooth sensitivety can be caused by a lot of things, but the type of bur your dentist used didn’t likely play a role.

          Sorry your tooth hurts. No one likes a toothache. Talk to your dentist about the tooth. Tell him when it hurts, how long it hurts, whether its sensitive to cold or heat or pressure, etc. That information combined with your X-rays and some other diagnostics can help him diagnose if there is a possible condition occuring that may necessitate a root canal. If so, better to have the root canal done before you have the crown cemented in place. That way if the pain doesn’t go away you won’t have to drill though a brand new crown to access the canals.

  11. I don’t remember my dentist used 2 types of dental drills to fix my cavities.

    I dislike when the dentist drills my teeth to remove cavities! The noise doesn’t really disturb me but I don’t like feeling the drill spinning inside my tooth and the spray of the decayed tooth in my mouth.

    I understand that dentists use two main types of dental drills, high-speed and slow-speed drills, to fix our teeth. Nevertheless I don’t understand the reason.

    Are drill bits that dentists use single-use or are they sterilized like the drill?

    • Dentists use a high speed drill to remove the hard tooth structure that may be blocking access to the decayed part. In other words, sometimes cavities are like caves-small entrance with a big chamber just past the entrance, only in teeth its a chamber full of soft, decayed tooth. Once the entrance has been enlarged to access the decay, a slow speed is used to carefully remove the decay just until healthy tooth structure is reached. There are some newer drills on the market with electric rpm controls that eliminate the need for two different drills, but these are still not owned by every dentist out there. As for the drill bits, you can get single use types as well as multi-use burrs that get sterilized between every patient.

  12. I went to the dentist today to get my braces tighten and to get my bracket put back in. When he was putting it back it he used one dental drill and it caught my lip so i have a cut on my lip now 🙁

  13. I’ve just had an impacted wisdom tooth extracted. I expected swelling and a sore jaw/gum but I also have a nasty wound on the inside and outside of the corner of my mouth. It’s about half an inch long and a uniform 1/4 inch wide. Half way through the procedure the dentist got a bit panicky that the drill got too hot and had it changed. Does the shaft of the drill get hot? Could it have caused a burn? My wound doesn’t look like a cut although it is hard to tell with the swelling where it is wet inside my mouth.

  14. Yesterday, I went to the dentist for an appointment and I had the drill used on my teeth, which always bothers me. I just don’t like the noise that it makes and it causes me to have anxiety. Are there any drills that don’t make that shrill noise?

  15. I’m so glad I found this site. I am afraid of going to the dentist. However, I think I have found a very good dentist. I am, however, experiencing pain upon chewing or drinkin/eating something cold on my upper posterior molar which my dentist just removed the old filling which had decay under and then did a build up and crown. During the time I wore the temporary crown I had this problem and thought the permanent crown would solve it. However, it hasn’t. My dentist explained early on (before doing any of this work) that my root, while not yet effected by the decay had a calcified channel but thought it possible to remove the decay and crown it without a root canal but due to the uncertainty until we tried it, she only used a temporary glue to attach the crown. I am on penicillin to kill any bacteria that may be contributing to the root/tooth discomfort. She has told me she will refer me to an enodontist if she determines the root canal is necessary. In your opinion, is it common to continue to have this kind of problem after a crown? Is it possible my discomfort upon chewing and cold sensitivity will go away in time? I’m not sure what I need to expect and am looking for a second opinion for consideration. Thank you.

  16. Every Time I go to the dentist and he uses drills , he hits by mistake other teeth then the tooth he is drilling , my question is does the drill make an affect if it touches a tooth for a bit and was working or just the dentist took his foot up but still the drill is running in lower speed , does it cut down in the tooth affected or even make a tiny whole or effect

  17. Just had a root canal and the dentist used the drill very hard, fast and without any water. Can that damage any of the remaining tooth for the crown?? And because the root appeared to be “curved” I assume the dentist drilled a larger hole at the top of the root, than at the bottom? Thanks for any reply.

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