Illustration of a patient on a dental chair being examined by his dentist

What Is a Dental Chair?

The Dental Chair is 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.

Types of Dental Chairs Midmark UltraComfort Dental Chair - Chair Institute

These chairs are set on a pedestal that can often (but not always) swivel and are attached to a Dental Engine, which is a companion device that provides power, suction, water, and the like.

Main Usage of Dental Chairs

As the name implies, regardless of the particular type of dental chair, about the only place you find these devices are in Dentist offices and are used to assist the Dentist in performing examinations, extractions, and oral surgeries.

To that end, dental chairs can feature a staggering variety of attachments, either on the chair itself, or on the ever-present Dental Engine: spit bowls, suction tubes, pneumatic tubes to power various pieces of equipment used in cleanings and surgeries, and so forth.

Modern dental chairs are crafted from a combination of metal and plastic, are often infused with antibacterial properties to minimize the risk of infection, and notably have thin chair backs, which allow the dentist to sit on a stool behind the patient to facilitate ease of access.

Different Types of Dental Chairs

Although there are a staggering number of attachments and options, when you boil it down, there are essentially three different types of dental chairs, defined by the chair’s relationship with the Dental Engine, which is the other critical component of a dental operatory.

  • Ceiling Mounted Design – None of the attachments are on the chair proper, but built into the ceiling, with the chair positioned beneath them.
  • Mobile Independent Design – Wheel-mounted chairs with locking mechanisms, or folding style chairs, designed to be used in mobile operations, typically serving poorer areas of the country.
  • Dental Chair Mounted Design – The Dental Engine and all necessary attachments are built into the chair itself
Types of Dental Chairs Ceiling Mounted Design - Chair Institute
Ceiling Mounted Design
Types of Dental Chairs Mobile Independent Design - Chair Institute
Mobile Independent Design
Types of Dental Chairs Dental Chair Mounted Design - Chair Institute
Dental Chair Mounted Design

In addition to these broad types of dental chairs, you find a number of variants including:

  • Oral surgery chairs, which typically feature a footrest that can be lowered completely.
  • Orthodontic chairs, which are one-piece, full-body chairs, articulated such that they can provide a virtually unlimited number of seating positions.
  • Simple examination chairs.

Origin and Brief History

The dental chair has a history that dates back to 1790, when an American Dentist, Dr. Josiah Flagg modified a simple Windsor writing chair for use in his dentistry practice. This was essentially a plain wooden chair with a padded headrest, and a small equipment tray added to one side.

Before this, it was common practice for dental patients to sit or lie on the floor while an assistant held the patient’s head in place as the Dentist performed extractions or minor surgery.

1867, Dr. James Beall patented the very first such device in England, crafted of all wood and featuring a footrest and a moderate recline function to allow the Dentist better access to the patient’s mouth.

The design remained virtually unchanged until 1958 when Dr. John Naughton invented what would be recognizable today as a modern dentist chair with an adjustable back that would allow the patient to be placed into a prone position. This basic design morphed into the three types of dental chairs seen today.

While there have been a variety of other innovations since then, most of these have taken the form of advances in materials science, allowing the chairs to be made out of a variety of new materials, automate the recline feature, and the like.

Today’s dental chairs are designed with an emphasis on patient comfort, and to interface with the Dental Engine, which is a companion device to the chair itself, in some cases, built into the chair itself, but more commonly appearing as a separate device, providing power, suction, water, and so forth.

Some Current Brands of Dental Chairs


  1. Sallie Buntenbah says:

    I have found a vintage Eames plywood style dental chair. Do you have any idea who made this chair?

    1. Chair Institute says:

      Hi Sallie,

      If the chair is vintage Eames, then it was likely built at some point by Ray and Charles Eames, although we find no evidence of dental chairs on their Wikipedia page which lists out their designs. The one that comes the closest to possibly being a match for what you’ve got is the “Donstrosity,” which was a prototype, so – if you have the actual prototype, you have a rare chair indeed!

      It’s likely though, that some other designer built it, copying Eames’ style.

      If you have pictures of the chair, the folks at the official Eames website might be able to shed some further light on it. Their website is here:

      And they can be reached by phone at 310.391.8283
      Or via email, here: [email protected]

      Hope this helps, keep us updated 🙂

      All the best!

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