How to Create Healthy Balanced Dental Lighting


Dental lighting has improved considerably since the first overheads were introduced in the 1950s. Today, you’ll find a wide variety of lighting options—and almost as many opinions about which is best. Maybe you’re thinking about moving up to an LED headlight, for example. Does that mean it’s time to scrap your overhead dental light?

Look a little closer, and you’ll see that while headlights offer many benefits, it’s wise to think of them as an addition to your overhead lights, rather than a permanent replacement.

Broad illumination or focused task lighting?

The answer is that both types of dental lighting have a place in your practice. Each has a different design to serve a different purpose.

Overhead LED dental lights give you the highest degree of uniform light. They illuminate the oval cavity broadly, with minimal shadowing. Permanently mounted to ceiling, cabinet, wall or delivery system, you can adjust overhead lights manually as needed.

dental lighting

Headlights are made for directional task lighting. This single-point “spot light” creates a small, high contrast field of view. Headlights move with you, shining on a parallel path to your line of vision.

Lighted handpieces create an even smaller area of illumination, lighting the specific area being treated as your hand moves. Because the light source is pointed directly at the surface being treated, it’s the most focused of task lighting.

So what are the pros and cons of each? Small, directional lights produce a narrow beam that’s easy to focus on a target, but they create dark shadows on adjacent surfaces. Large overhead lights do a nice job of reducing glare and dark shadows, but may need to be adjusted more often. Used together, overhead lights and headlights balance one another to give you optimal illumination.

Do you have a healthy dental lighting ratio?

Chances are, you’ve never heard of the TB (“target-to-background”) ratio. It’s the difference between the brightness of the surface you’re working on, versus the rest of the mouth and face. And it makes a big difference in how well you can see, and how comfortably you work.

SurgiTel, a leading manufacturer of medical/dental headlights, suggests a 3:1 TB ratio for optimal clinical illumination. That means your targeted work area should be about three times brighter than the background area. The good news is that this ratio is ideal for boosting visual acuity and reducing eye strain. The bad news? It’s impossible to get with a headlight alone.

If you’re using a headlight for target illumination, having an overhead dental light bridges the “illumination gap” to create an eye-healthy 3:1 TB ratio. In return, the directional lighting of the headlight minimizes the need to move the overhead dental light. Just position it directly above the oral cavity, at arm’s length, and you’ll only need to tilt it an inch or so when working on the mandible or maxillary surfaces.

Make an enlightened choice

If you decide to add a headlight to your practice, having a high quality, overhead LED dental light is essential. Choose dental lighting that conforms to the latest ISO9680 standards for brightness, color rendering and uniformity.

To reduce eye strain and fatigue, look for an LED with a soft, feathered light pattern, evenly distributed light intensity, and a design that minimizes shadows. A-dec 500 LED dental lights, for example, feature a “stadium light” design specifically engineered to reduce shadows from all points of view.

Need a little extra guidance? See What to Look for When Buying a Dental Light, then talk to your Henry Schein representative for more information.