Alligator forceps are surgical instruments used for grasping small objects or removing items from small cavities in the body. This type of forceps has a scissor-like grip at one end for a thumb and several fingers to hook through, a long shaft that is set at a 45-degree angle to the grip, and a small set of serrated jaws at the tip. The jaws bear resemblance to the snout of an alligator, giving rise to the name of the tool. Alligator forceps are manufactured in varying lengths, ranging from 3 inches (about 7.62 cm) to 11 inches (about 27.94 cm) long.
When not in use, the serrated jaws remain open and only close when the handles are squeezed. This function allows for the forceps to be inserted into a cavity such as the nose, to partially open, and to then be closed on a lodged object, holding the object with a consistent application of pressure. The ability to fine tune the amount of pressure applied, combined with the long reach of the tool, makes the forceps ideal for removing foreign bodies or for moving sterile dressings in a hard-to-reach area after surgery.
Falling under the broader category of thumb forceps, alligator forceps are used by placing the thumb in the top opening on the grip end, and then two or three fingers into the lower section. A steady squeeze will result in closure of the forceps. The forceps typically function equally well in either hand, regardless of the orientation of the user. Alligator forceps, much like all other medical equipment, are typically made out of high-grade carbon steel so that they are able to withstand repeated sterilization procedures. Disposable forceps do exist but are made out of plastic and are designed to be used only once.
The serrated jaws of alligator forceps make the forceps ideal for handling tissue or sterile dressings, as the interlocking, serrated edges actually do less damage to tissue than if flat forceps were used – grasping with a serrated edge minimizes the overall pressure created, resulting in significantly less harm. With alligator forceps, as with all forceps, the term is both singular and plural. A single forceps is never referred to as a forcep, and forceps are never noted as a pair. Outside of the medical field, alligator forceps are often used in technology applications: they are excellent for grasping wires or re-acquiring lost screws. In non surgical applications, forceps typically are known as tweezers or tongs.