dental sink in a vintage bathroomI have a confession to make: All these years, I have not really been reading all my vintage marketing materials much — I have been looking at the pictures and kind of scanning text. I have soaked up a lotta, for sure, but now, I have started going back and reading… trying to pick up more of the wherefore and why-to of mid century design details. Along the way, I’m also discovering more rare and fascinating things that were, apparently, tried out, but didn’t really catch on, so were abandoned. Which made me remember, above: “Dental sinks.”

This question first came up a while ago when I posted about 1940s interior decorating style. (Note the carrera glass tile and high-contrast jazz-age look: A dead giveaway that it’s 1940s.) In her comment, Laura asked:

What a great article! I have one question though … in the very last image, do you have any idea what’s up with the big sink and the little sink? I’ve never seen anything like that before … wondering if this is a house for the three bears, and Mama Bear’s sink isn’t in the picture. LOL

When I was in the first grade in Sister Mary Meda’s class at St. Christopher’s in Carlsbad, California, I won a chocolate Easter bunny in a class talent competition for my rendition, with voices, of the story of The Three Bears. I was quite proud. And ate the whole messy melting bunny at the next recess. Anyway, here is what I told Laura about Baby Bear’s sink:

Back in the day, sink manufacturers tried to promote a smaller “dental sink”. I think this may have had to do with (1) the fact there generally was only one bathroom and (2) concerns about hygiene and spreading disease.

I think that if you were to find a small sink like this — and if it were matchy-matchy with your main sink — wouldn’t it make a fantastic addition to a period bathroom recreation? A fabulous conversation starter … and hey, useful, too, especially if you only had one bathroom. Readers: Let’s keep an eye out at Re-Store and salvage places to see if we can spot one. John from, if you are reading this, I’d love to hear  if you ever come across these.

Now that I have made a big deal about actually reading my piles and piles and piles of midcentury marketing materials, I must qualify by saying that this explanation of dental sinks doesn’t come from something definitive that I found all buried away. (I remembered them as a rare feature once I started spotting other oddities in my new wave of research.) But, I did see them called ‘dental sinks’ in the brochure that featured this photo. And the rest of the stuff in my hypotheses I’ve read about some place. I think that 2011 will be the year I really start taking notes and recording my sources, I guess.

Update: Dental sinks have “flushing rims”:

Reader Jocelyn sent me a link to this 1955 American Standard advertisement — it promotes the dental lavatory (aka, sink) as helping to relieving bathroom traffic congestion in the morning. This was the era of one-bathroom households, remember. Morever: Note that the ad says the dental sink has a flushing rim. Now I really need one of these! Thanks, Jocelyn!

…And more — sent a link to this vintage Crane dental sink with a flushing rim — only the second they have ever seen! Thanks, team, we love you, and not just because you are an advertiser:

dental sink

Update: Second design of dental sink:

vintage sink dentalAbove: Another design that we spotted! Spotted on page 21 of my 1949 Crane catalog.


Above: Here’s an American-Standard “Dentaledge” sink with flushing rim, from my 1955 catalog.

  1. David says:

    We just bought a 1961 ranch house where a vanity has replaced the sink. The bath is very small and the vanity makes it even smaller. The original homeowner said that the builder goofed and made the living room bigger than needed thus making the bath very small. Any idea who made small sinks to fit? O have heard trailer sinks will work.

  2. pam kueber says:

    ooooooooooooooooooh, very cool! I added it to the story (John is always okay with my doing this) with links… Note, patty, that in the story we also link to a 1955 American Standard ad for a similar dental lavatory with flushing rim!

  3. Joe says:

    Yeah dental sinks are one of a few plumbing oddities from historic construction. Their flushing rim may have been a carryover from another product manufacturers of the time were producing: flushing service sinks. Kohler and American Standard ( still produce them, and they seem to have found a niche in medical and scientific, but in historical situations, I believe richer residences had them for disposal of food scraps (have not confirmed). Another interesting oddity being the sitz bath, a close relative to the bidet, but predominantly aimed at cleaning your posterior. Likewise there was food baths, but it appears neither small bath really took, and I haven’t seen them referenced after the 30’s. Historical architectural plumbing texts provide for a great diversity in oddities.

  4. Gretchen says:

    I love the idea of having the dental sink at child height… another unusual bathroom item I have seen at a home is a child height small urinal!

  5. Jamie D says:

    We installed a very slim sink/vanity combo from IKEA in our basement half-bath. My knees would smash into the giant clunky 80s vanity when I sat on the toilet. And I’m only 5’4”.

    The IKEA is about 14” wide but only 9” deep. We bought it 5 years ago though, not sure if they still make it. Our plumber was fascinated by such a unique, convenient size.

  6. Lori says:

    Would love to have a dental sink that magically swirls all the kiddos & hubby’s toothpaste etc down the drain! A dream come true!

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