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What is a Curette?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A curette is a medical instrument which is designed to scrape a surface such as tissue, a tooth, or the inside of a body opening. Curettes are sold by many medical instrument suppliers, with several different sizes available for different types of tasks. Both disposable and reusable versions are readily available for various applications. While designed for use in medicine, curettes can also sometimes be useful hand tools for things like working ceramics.

This instrument is designed a lot like a stylus, with a handle which is designed to be held in the hand, and a scoop-shaped tip. The tip has a sharp blade, and may be angled. Some variations on the basic curette design include versions with loops of wire which are designed to be more gentle, and curettes with softened edges which can be used when a practitioner is worried about cutting and hurting a patient.

These tools can be used in surgery, biopsy, and autopsy to scrape tissue. One classic use of the curette is in tooth cleanings, where a dentist will use the device to remove tartar, more formally known as dental calculus. Curettes are also sometimes used to clean out the ear so that a doctor can see into the ear, or to provide relief from a wax buildup, in which case a soft curette may be used to avoid injuring the ear. In both cases, the instrument is used with a bright light so that the doctor can clearly see into the opening to confirm that the curette is being applied to the right location.

The curette is also sometimes used in the medical procedure known as dilation and curettage, in which the cervix is dilated and the device is used to scrape out the contents of the uterus. This technique can be used to treat various gynecological conditions, and to terminate a pregnancy. Known as a D & C when it is used to terminate a pregnancy, dilation and curettage does not, in fact, always involve a curette. Other tools may be used instead, despite the name.

In the case of a reusable curette, the instrument is designed to be sterilized, and can endure heat, high pressure, and harsh soaps used to clean medical instruments. Disposable curettes are meant to be discarded between patients, because they cannot be sterilized, and many will also break down if they are overused, thanks to their lightweight single use design.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By aishia — On Jul 26, 2011

@VivAnne - Hi there, welcome to our discussion! I can give you some advice on curettes and pottery here.

To answer your last question first, here, yes plastic is fine. A disposable curette will work great for pottery, and so long as you are careful not to break it, it can last through years of occasional use.

If you use the same curette every day and it is a disposable, there is a possibility it will eventually break, but since disposable curettes are sold in packs of multiples you ought to have a backup.

Now, about which curette types would work well as pottery tools. It really depends on which kind of pottery work you'll be doing with them; different curette tip shapes can provide really different effects as far as texturing and pattern work go.

I would start with dental curettes, which nowadays you can buy in small packages in pharmacies. I know that Rite Aid sells them. Other than dental curettes, you might try out universal curettes, which are designed to be used for several different curette applications. Those might be a bit harder to track down, though -- maybe try eBay.

Hope this helps you and your aunt out, and you are quite welcome.

By VivAnne — On Jul 25, 2011

Is any particular kind of curette superior to any other particular kind as far as which one would make a good pottery-sculpting tool? Since the tip sizes vary, as aishia said, I'd imagine there is probably more than one curette style that would work for pottery and clay projects, but I'm looking for which type would be a good one to try first.

Has anybody here actually tried using a curette for pottery instead of for medical uses? Are the disposable kind good enough? Since they don't need to be sterilized a lot like they do when used for medical stuff, the plastic would probably last okay for pottery work, right?

Thanks for any help you can give me -- much appreciated! I'm going to tell my aunt about these curettes, she does pottery work and usually uses things like wooden skewer sticks to add detailing.

By aishia — On Jul 25, 2011

@gimbell - Likely the kind of curette used in your father's ear wax cleanings and the dental curette you find the dentist sticking into your mouth during your tooth cleanings are different designs.

The term "curette" refers to a small hand held tool, but the tip size, shape and style vary greatly depending on what the curette is going to be used for, so a dental curette and an ear wax cleaning type curette probably couldn't get mixed up even if somebody tried to confuse others by mixing them together in the same instrument storage place.

Studying curettes and other little medical tools is a hobby of mine, so I've seen photos of dozens of styles. One that sticks in my mind particularly well is a curette used for removing tumors known as the "Tumor Screw". It has a corkscrew-style spiral on the end instead of a little blade or piece of wire. Looks kind of scary, but if it helps the doctor treat the tumor, I suppose it's a good thing.

By gimbell — On Jul 24, 2011

The name "curette" is kind of cute, and sounds a bit French. I wonder who named these instruments?

It's kind of gross to think about the fact that the same tool they use for ear wax cleanings like my dad goes in for every few years is also the type put into my mouth when I go to the dentist!

I know the curettes in the dentist's office have never been anywhere near somebody's ear, and vice versa for the ear curettes they use in dad's cleanings, but the thought of it is still strange. Mixing up your curettes sounds like something you might find on the tv show "Scrubs".

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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