Dental Equipment Innovation and History

The DENTALEZ name has an important history, one that customers have grown to trust for many years. In fact, two of the company’s brands, Star and Columbia Dentoform, have been industry leaders for over 100 years!  Over that time, we’ve remained steadfast in our quality, and innovative in our approach to solving everyday problems in dentistry.

We think the stories behind our products represent the people, the thinking, and the history of our industry and certainly of our dedication to serving you, our customers. We decided to review each of these historical threads and share with you how our products have changed with the times and with your needs, leading the way to a better, more-efficient workplace and always with your peace of mind, top of mind.

We started by a walk through the history of our Star family of handpieces, and the various innovations that have led to them leading the industry for decades. This month, we’re focused on our customizable Forest line of dental equipment ― patient chairs and accessories ― and how those have changed in response to or in anticipation of needs in our market.

We sat down with Aggie Pennington, Strategic Accounts Manager, who has been with DENTALEZ for over 45 years and Justin Fry, Senior Product Manager, who is currently leading the equipment lines and heavily involved in the next exciting round of evolutions to our equipment.

The History of DENTALEZ Equipment

Aggie, tell us about the history of the DENTALEZ equipment lines…

Well, we have to go back to the beginning really. You have to remember, all dentists originally worked standing up! As we saw how the dentist worked, we realized it was critical we made a change. And you can imagine the types of contortions that required; they were bending in all different ways and having back problems and neck problems. As we watched our community deal with these discomforts, we realized that the dentist needed to sit down! We put our team to work and what we did next revolutionized the industry.

The J-Chair

The J-Chair was the first chair that allowed a dentist to sit next to a reclined patient. It had a knee lift so it was comfortable for the patient, and it was clearly more comfortable for the dentist. And because of the third motor, it really allowed them to take that chair and lay it right in the dentist’s lap, and dentists could rotate around the head of the patient for the first time. Whichever position they were in, they were able to more easily reach the mouth.

It’s totally second nature today to see a chair like this but at the time, as you can imagine, it was revolutionary. Dentists would come to our booth, and they were intrigued. We’d insist on showing them how the chair worked and put them in the dentists’ stool so they could truly understand how it would feel. You could see the excitement on their faces.

Cream dental chair

At that time, units were almost all rear delivery, basically mounted on a cabinet or over the patient like we see today. So this was a very ergonomic shift, and dentists started to love it! This innovation literally changed dentistry as we see it today. Our company grew, and of course, other companies came out with their own chair unit and light package. You saw the market grow and also get competitive.

Improvements to the J Chair

As things moved along, we saw additional opportunities to improve comfort and access, and each time, we addressed them. We refined the angles of bending to improve comfort and improve access for the dentist. We realized patient chairbacks needed to be even thinner, slimmer and narrower to allow the best access, with a chair that came even lower down onto the dentist’s lap.

Next, we learned patients’ heads weren’t always in the most comfortable position, as they sat for longer procedures, in particular. Then we came out with headrests to make it more comfortable for the patient. A comfortable patient is an easier patient! Both patients and dentists loved that.

This was such an incredible change and it came about because we were communicating with the end-user all the time, getting feedback on what they liked and didn’t like. DENTALEZ was a large and growing company but also close-knit, with a small company feel, and we were able to react very quickly to input. So as time went on, we tried a split-back V Chair for surgeons and added an extra headrest ― whatever the industry was asking for, we provided. We learned how to pass instruments and handpieces the way a dentist and assistant might, so we could focus on what worked best in terms of placement, design and comfort.

Adapting for Patient Needs

Then we hit the 80s ― particularly the late 80s, with the emergence of HIV/AIDS, and along with this, the increased prevalence of Hepatitis B and C. The industry had to pivot to asepsis technique, and we quickly totally changed what we were doing. The mandate to sterilize handpieces was getting stricter, and DENTALEZ was very responsive to the industry; we changed to meet the needs. We certainly sold more handpieces but we became cognizant of the need to have autoclavable and to provide changeable parts. And the equipment design changed ― now all our chairs and stools had white bases and also white bases on our cabinetry. (Eventually we changed from white to gray/beige because white got banged up so quickly ― especially the white bases.)

Another evolving concern was the growth of an aging population. We needed ways to get patients in wheelchairs or who have challenges walking or bending into the chair and make them comfortable. Patients with weight issues require chairs to be stronger or bigger. One of the ways we meet this need is with our NuSimplicity Chair, the modern rendition of the J-Chair that actually glides across the floor to allow for better ease of patient access, and in today’s post-COVID environment, enhanced ability to keep offices even cleaner. The evolution to this chair that can work for stand-up or sit-down dentistry, or even oral surgery, is optimal for dentists’ health, and when we introduced it, it moved both higher and lower than any other chair on the market for maximum spectrum of use and comfort.

Then we had a period where we continued to make smaller more-nuanced enhancements and changes in leadership. The next major innovation came in the 2000s as the small and large group practices (the DSOs) became a bigger trend, and we started addressing the need for a value-priced, quality package we could provide to that market. This is a segment we continue to strive to provide for. At the same time, the trend moved away from the beige and gray, toward color. There was an uptick in female dentists graduating dental schools and that also had an impact on the shift to aesthetics alongside instrumentation. In other words, more-beautified offices became a trend. Forest Dental led that trend and their broad capabilities with customizing color and other components became part of the DENTALEZ family.

Partnership with Forest Dental

Justin chimed in to share some other details about the company’s partnership with Forest Dental and the merging of two innovative companies under the DENTALEZ brand.

Forest started as a components company, and Hank Barton came in and moved the company toward selling equipment. When he started looking for a way to differentiate, ergonomics were well-understood. Chairs were now designed with a thinner back, a double articulating headrest, some lumbar support, a toe board and good recline. Hank saw an opportunity to innovate in an entirely new way. He had a great passion for fine cars, and as someone who liked beautiful things and hated plastic, he set out to make beautiful things that would last for a very long time. He ventured to create something unique to catch the eye of the consumer. He leaned away from the status quo regarding customizability.

Close up of stiching in a black dental chair

What he came up with was a process allowing him to create equipment that could fit each dentist’s personal aesthetic, to match their office or empower more creativity; to create something that’s their own. Dentists are very detail-oriented by nature and very hands-on, so they love to have these design choices.

Hank also continued to focus highly on ergonomics, specifically the rear-mounted delivery system, and took that to the next level. He worked with an ergonomics guru, Dr. Ahern, of Design Ergonomics, and from him, Hank fine-tuned the way we design for four-handed dentistry ― promoting proper posture by reducing the need for twisting, turning and tilting that leads to upper back and neck issues, as well as ocular strain caused by constantly focusing your eyes in and out of the operatory light pattern. Improved ergonomics also provide the benefit of increased efficiency with fewer fatigue-related breaks needed.

The end result is a four-handed dental procedure process that means dentists never have to stop looking at the tooth they’re focused on. They put their hand out and the assistant provides the next tool, taking all that instrumentation out of the view of patients, which helps them stay more at ease.

Hank didn’t create anything wholly brand new. He was simply adamant about the combination of being able to style your product to your liking and including everything you need in its best possible manifestation. Then there’s a 20-year warranty on internals that is market-leading to this day.

What is next in innovative equipment coming from DENTALEZ?

We’re very excited about our 6400 Chair coming soon! The 6400 Chair will unite the best of both DENTALEZ and Forest legacies, combining the differentiating features of a chair that has the widest range of motion in the market with the uniqueness of Forest designer friendly colors, comfort features, and delivery unit and operatory light options.

Thank you Justin and Aggie ― and stay tuned for our next article about the amazing innovations built into our history at DENTALEZ!

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