What happened the the dental spittoon?
Many of you remember the good old days when there was a little bowl with water running next to the dental chair to spit into. The sound of running water may have been comforting and many miss the challenge of trying to hit the bowl but the reasons to remove it eventually trumped patients desires.
Sanitation in the Dental Office
Perhaps the most compelling reason to remove it was sanitation. No one wanted to clean that spit bowl, especially the assistants. In addition as described, hitting the bowl with numb lips was a challenge and often ended up with drool on the floor.
The cuspidor, its proper name, was also an enormous water waster and leaks from its plumbing proved to be one of the main sources of major dental office flooding. As more technology has come into the operatory, space has become more valuable and the cuspidor leakage a liability to electronics.
Dental Office Efficiency
Probably the most important cause for the demise of the cuspidor was efficiency. Time motion studies showed that dentists spent 20% of their time watching people attempt to spit and then trying to catch those annoying spit strings. Given the cost of dentistry spending that time just made procedures take longer and more expensive.
Other Methods to spit
For a while we tried to use funnels attached to the high volume suction, that is until about 20 years ago. A young very apprehensive four year old boy came in for his first visit. I spent time reassuring him, showing him the “special mirror” “tooth counter” and “automatic toothbrush.” He eventually became comfortable and we were able to check and clean his teeth. Unfortunately I was working with a new assistant who seemed nice and was “experienced”, but within her probationary period in our office. I told her to give him some water, let him rinse out the remaining polish and spit into the spittoon. This is how you test to see if the child can spit prior to giving them fluoride rinse to strengthen their teeth. I left the room only to be alarmed by the sound of muffled screams. I rushed back into the room to find the boy with the spittoon/funnel stuck to his face and the assistant pulling back and forth trying to dislodge it. Being a dentist I can understand muffled words and the boy was saying “Its eating me. Its eating me.” I calmly shut off the suction and removed the funnel. I can completely understand why I never saw the boy again. To this day I feel badly about what happened. The assistant learned that day she should seek employment elsewhere and she went on to work at another office in Carlsbad.
We no longer have spittoons/cuspidors in our office. If a patient needs to rinse and spit we simply have them use a disposable cup that they can hold up to their mouth and spit into. The spit strings still happen but at least they are just on the disposable bib.