Traversing Dental Patient Chairs

Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, founder and president of Design Ergonomics

By Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, Founder and President of Design Ergonomics

Traversing dental chairs are chairs that allow the patient to be moved front-to-back in the room with the push of a button. There are only a couple of such chairs on the market because that motion is expensive to make. Since most dentists don’t know why they would want the feature (or even what it is), I’m betting that you won’t see many more of them available.

So how did these chairs come about anyway?

Pelton and Crane chairman

The Pelton and Crane Chairman

The first of these units was the Pelton & Crane Chairman; part of an amazing suite of dental equipment from the 60’s referred to as the “Executive” package. Back in the 60’s you couldn’t be anything more cool than an “Executive”. Thus the name. Pelton & Crane is now defunct. Danaher (the big Fortune 500 company) killed them off – but not because of the chairs. They got killed because Danaher is all about makin’ money and they quickly realized that they could make way more money selling you expensive high tech that comes with a support contract, or consumables that you have to buy over and over.

When it comes to makin’ the money, those Danaher folks are smart people – but it doesn’t help me get the best patient chair … but back to the story!

Pelton had created this cool room. It was great for presenting dentistry, but it was rear delivery – and that is a bad idea if you’re doing a lot of dentistry. However, patients felt more comfortable and treatment planning worked great. As a result these rooms helped usher in an era of actual comprehensive dental care, rather than drill, fill, and bill.

So why did Pelton need this new chair? That’s actually pretty simple. If your chair simply pivots at the waist you need to locate it way down at the toe of the room in the upright position. Since much of the dental work at that time was done standing up, unless the chair moved closer to the head of the room, you had nowhere to stage anything. Couldn’t make a denture very easily! All of your supplies were a mile away from that back counter.

To get a little sideways here, this is still a big problem with rear delivery even today and that’s why I think it’s such a bad idea. You can learn more about this in the lecture “This Can All Be Easier”.

So why would you want a traversing dental chair today? As an exclusive user of traversing chairs I’ve got a number of reasons.

First, we now work almost exclusively under magnification. Most of our loupes are through the lens, therefore we have a fixed declination angle. This makes the patient’s head placement in the chair really critical. With a non-traversing chair we are left constantly asking the patient to “scooch up” in it! They hate that, and you hate that.

With a traversing chair most of the accommodation of a shifting patient can be made by simply sliding the chair forward or backward in the room as if they are on a microscope stage! You don’t have to do anything else.

If you do sedation, it’s even more useful. Moving sedation patients around in the chair is a complete pain. With traverse, you don’t have to move the patient: you simply move the chair.

All of your supplies stay close with a traversing chair, which increases productivity.

So with all of these clinical benefits, what is my favorite advantage of traverse? It’s actually none of these. Think about this for a moment. You have a room that is 10 or 11 feet deep, and you enter from the head. You really should greet new patients in the upright position. From their perspective, it’s just creepy meeting your new doctor while lying down! Would you like to meet your new lawyer while lying down? How about the police? You need to understand that feeling because it sets the stage for case acceptance.

Setting the stage for case acceptance

Setting the stage for case acceptance

When you move a NON-traversing chair to the upright position in a normal room, it winds up way down to the toe of the room. How weird is it to walk up behind a patient…and they can feel your coming? How weird is it that your assistant is trying to do the introduction while she is stuck in the corner of the room past the patient or – having failed to fit there – she’s forced to introduce you from behind the patient? How weird is it to try and consult with a patient when you’re both jammed at the end of the room? The result is that we don’t (or can’t) successfully discuss and close cases in treatment rooms set up this way! Which is why we try to move people to consultation to discuss care.

Guess what? Patients hate being moved to the consult room! It feels like the car dealership minus the bad coffee in a paper cup.

So here’s the difference that the simple addition of traversing brings – and if you haven’t seen it you probably won’t believe it. If your chair traverses, you gain almost a foot at the toe of your room from the chair mechanism itself…and because of the flexibility of the chair placement, you actually get an additional 1/2 foot of in-room placement. The result is that your patient doesn’t have to feel creepy, with their back to the room during introduction or case presentation. The patient, relaxed and comfortably seated where they are, can be engaged in dialogue.

I recently did another video that goes into this element (Making a Dental Treatment Room Great for Consultation). Case acceptance actually goes up tremendously if the room that you see the patient in is actually the same room that you consult in – but it can’t be an open walled or cabinet divided space. I go into details about that in that video.

So there you have it. Traversing chairs. They are more expensive and, if you can’t afford a new one now like the one you see here, see if you can find a used Pelton & Crane Chairman. Get it recovered and run it for a bunch of years and when you wear that one out you’ll be ready for these next generation units. I personally would rather give up a treatment room than give up 2 things; electric handpieces and traversing chairs!

But I have a warning. Once you’ve had this level of comfort, convenience, and productivity you won’t ever want to go back to a non-traversing chair.

If you have any questions, please reach out at any time to my team at Design Ergonomics.


Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, founder and president of Design Ergonomics
Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, Founder and President of Design Ergonomics and Ergonomic Products. To learn a little more about my journey in dentistry, and other principles you can apply to make your practice a fun, easy, and productive place to work, take a look at our This Can All Be Easierplaylist on YouTube. If you enjoy these videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/designequiptrain. Turn on notifications to receive our latest video updates.