The Humble Spittoon


The SS White Co. were the first to manufacture a free-standing spittoon in 1860s. It looked something like this.

The awkward invitation for patients to swish and spit is often a welcome sign that time in the dentist's chair is up. 

We take the unpretentious spittoon for granted, but the early versions of this chair-side piece of equipment were simply containers with a funnel-shaped opening.

The first spittoon designed for dental use was recorded in 1828 Paris.

At ADAQ, we have a beautiful example of a brass spittoon with tool-tray attachment, patented in 1876. it is attached to a chair of the same era via a spittoon attachment that matches the chair frame.


Improved hygiene standards and the difficulty of aiming with numb lips hastened the introduction of more mobile models of spittoon, some with running water. A matching water jug or bottle was not required anymore:

The basins of the early models were quite elaborate with flute or engraved glass being utilised, and usually stood independent of the dental chair.

De Trey & Co Ltd, London. Early 20th Century. Engraved glass, four-legged steel stand. University Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands. (Photographed by Gary Smith at the “Teeth” Exhibition 2018. Wellcome Museum).

Kronring Berlin circa 1890, Basin with rinsing mechanism and water jet pump used for saliva suction and filling the water glass (Missing the metal stand). Picture retrieved from a calendar in ADAQ’s collection.

With the introduction of the elaborate Ritter Trident dental unit in the 1920s, the spittoon, light, instrument tray and drill could all be incorporated into it:

Tri-dent dental station. Ritter Dental Manufacturing Co. 1920. Wellcome Museum, CC BY 4.0.

The ADAQ museum houses a less complicated Ritter dental unit, which is unfortunately incomplete. With the spittoon, this unit also includes an instrument tray and X-ray arm and head. The drill may have been powered by a foot treadle or a wall mounted electric motor.

This unit combo was advertised by SS White in their equipment catalogue in 1932. Standard finishes were black and mahogany, but you could order a white, pearl grey, green or ivory tan at an additional cost:

Ritter Dental Unit in a catalogue. Spittoon, light, instrument tray and drill were incorporated.