What Are Metzenbaum Scissors?

R.G. Blake

Metzenbaum scissors are type of surgical tool used to cut soft tissue. The tool is usually characterized by looped handles and thin, delicate blades. It’s very popular in dissections and is a common tool in most school science laboratories, but also has an important place in medical offices and surgical tables. These sorts of scissors were originally designed for oral surgeries, and the handles were specifically contoured to give surgeons a better grip and more control when cutting away mouth and gum tissues. Today they have a broad role in many different surgeries, and can be a good choice anywhere soft bodily tissues need to be pulled back, held up, or temporarily lifted.

Surgical scissors may be designed for suturing specific areas of the body.
Surgical scissors may be designed for suturing specific areas of the body.

Primary Function

Surgery is often a more complicated science than it may first appear. In most cases bodies aren’t just opened to reveal problems or to repair damages. Modern science allows for strategic incisions and interruptions in muscular and tissue walls that are as minimally invasive as possible, but this usually requires a range of different tools, each with a nuanced and specific purpose. Metzenbaum scissors are one of these. The scissors are intended for and work best on delicate soft tissues, such as those surrounding organs and lining various cavities. They allow practitioners to gently lift, move, and shift the tissues in order to reduce the chance of damage.

Metzenbaum scissors are a type of surgical tool typically used to cut delicate soft tissues.
Metzenbaum scissors are a type of surgical tool typically used to cut delicate soft tissues.

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The tools have a rather broad basic functionality as a result. Clinicians use them in a variety of applications including dental, obstetrical, gynecological, dermatological, ophthalmological, and veterinary procedures. Students also frequently use them at various stages in clinical dissections in order to better expose various levels of tissue and to expose organs without damaging them. At the same time, they generally aren't a good choice for cutting dense materials or tissue, and shouldn't normally be used for anything thicker than a sheet of standard paper.

Basic Characteristics

An American surgeon by the name of Myron Metzenbaum first designed the tool, and it is he for whom they are named. Dr. Metzenbaum was an oral surgeon who was looking for a way to more delicately expose and cut into the gums during tooth extractions and other procedures. He designed the tool to fit easily in the hand and to give much more control than a scalpel or larger scissor-like tools would.

The scissors come in various lengths, but all have a similarly distinctive look with a long handle or shank and a shorter blade. Some are available with reusable handles and disposable tips. Right- and left-hand models are usually available as well.

Blades can be curved or straight, but the tips are nearly always blunt. Most Metzenbaum scissors ranges in length from 5.5 inches (about 14 cm) to 14 inches (about 35.6 cm). So-called “baby” variations are only about 4.5 inches (about 11.4 cm) long, considerably smaller than the standard size. The baby size usually makes them more effective for the most delicate procedures, though they’re not, as their name might suggest, used primarily on infants.

How They’re Made

Basic models are usually made from stainless steel, and this is the original and most traditional means of manufacturing. Advancements in the field have led to a range of other possibilities, though. Modern implements can be found with tungsten carbide cutting edges, for instance, and these generally provide a finer cut and last longer than the stainless steel ones. These are often readily recognizable thanks to their gold-plated ring handles. The most expensive type usually is made from titanium.

Related Tools

Most surgeons have a number of scissor-like tools at their immediate disposal, and many look really similar at first. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably, but in most cases each has its own intended and distinctive purpose. Metzenbaum scissors are sometimes confused with other types of surgical scissors, particularly the Mayo scissors, though a closer look will usually reveal a few important differences. The Metzenbaum style tool is usually a bit lighter, has a longer handle, and has a more slender midsection than does the Mayo, for instance. Mayo scissors often are used for cutting sutures, as well. Metzenbaums could be dulled by such use unless the sutures are very fine.

Metzenbaum scissors are often confused with Mayo forceps, which are used in suturing.
Metzenbaum scissors are often confused with Mayo forceps, which are used in suturing.

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Discussion Comments


There is another type of scissors called the metzenbaum-nelson scissors, What is the difference then?


@everetra - I don’t blame you. It’s good to know that doctors and dentists are using advances in technology to refine basic instruments such as medical scissors.

Surgery is a delicate procedure requiring tremendous amounts of patience and the right tools for the job. I’m glad I live in the modern era, and not thousands of years ago when the ancients used simple blades to cut into the skin and perform their operations.


Where I live there is a company that sells surgical instruments–they’re a major distributor, actually, for dental instruments across the United States. I know one of the guys who works there and he travels as a salesman, constantly on the road, peddling their products.

One of the instruments my friend sells is a tool used in root canals. It’s what’s called a file system and has a torque motor. It’s supposedly more efficient than other tools used for root canals, in that it takes fewer spins of the drill, so to speak, to accomplish the needed results.

I’m not a dentist so I don’t fully understand the explanation he gave me, except to tell him I wasn’t interested in a root canal, no matter how good the product was.

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