Dental handpieces have a long and storied history and remain a vital, daily part of dentistry today. The care and maintenance of these handpieces are essential to preserving their lifespan and proper functionality. While traditional air-driven handpieces are more common in daily practice, the increase in electric handpiece availability means that they have now become more widely used.
Understanding how to properly clean and maintain handpieces and their components will help you provide optimal care to your patients. Knowing when to replace or rebuild handpiece turbines or knowing when to clean and lubricate handpieces are essential steps to achieve long-lasting quality. While every dental handpiece will need to be serviced at some point, properly maintaining your handpiece will be crucial as you move through your day-to-day operations.
Courtesy of Mr. Glenn Williams, a recent THE NEXTDDS virtual training event entitled “5 Simple Recommendations to Maintain Your Dental Handpiece” discusses the recognition of different components of dental handpieces and how they work. Mr. Williams also shows the viewers how to reduce spending on costly handpiece repairs, increase the life of turbines between repairs, and improve handpiece maintenance knowledge and skills. Here are the five recommendations from the presentation:
1. Air Pressure
Air pressure has the most effect on the life of a handpiece and is an important consideration. Handpieces have tiny precision bearings that have a certain operating envelope, and if they are taken past the recommended pressure and pushed beyond their limit, they will have an accelerated failure and become prone to constant repairs. Small, inline gauges can be used to make accurate readings of air pressure, which is important because handpieces have frictional air loss as air travels through the tubing, which may lose as much as six pounds of pressure from the dental unit to the handpiece. Consistently checking your handpiece’s air pressure should be paramount in your practice.
Many questions come into play when discussing lubrication:
How often should you oil the handpiece?
You should oil your handpieces every single time you autoclave it. This procedure is now universal, as every manufacturer has guidelines to spray the oil, run out the excess buildup, and then begin the autoclave proceedings.
Where does the oil go?
A four-hole or four-line handpiece has an exhaust which is usually the biggest hole on the handpiece. Here, you don’t want back pressure building up on the handpiece which will slow the handpiece down. Instead, the smaller of the two large holes is called the “drive” hole that drives the turbine where the air is going under pressure. This is where you want the oil to go.
Oils come in a dropper and a spray. Which one is better to use?
Droppers usually don’t penetrate the bearings enough when compared to sprays, which means that you’re relying on the pressure of the air to drive the oil to the bearings. Sprays take out these variables. In addition, using the correct tip on the handpiece can be a huge factor as different brands may have intricate qualities that prevent proper cleaning.
Why should you run out excess oil?
Running out the excess oil is important for several reasons. First, it allows the oil to not “bake” into the bearings, which would cause the handpiece to become sluggish. Secondly, it allows the oil to not spray into the patient’s mouth. Finally, it allows the oil to not contaminate the operating field. In this way, flushing stations are a good option to use after lubrication in the sterilization area.
Does it matter what type of oil I use?
If you bought the handpiece from a manufacturer under a product warranty, you should use the manufacturer’s oil or risk voiding out your warranty. Thus, it is important to use only one brand of oil for that handpiece’s lubrication. However, if you do not have a warranty, the type of oil you use does not matter, as long as you consistently and routinely lubricate your handpieces.
What about automatic lubrication machines?
Automatic lubrication machines offer both positive and negatives to the practitioner. While these machines create more staff time to do other tasks, can consistently clean multiple handpieces at a time at a measured pace, and can extend your warranty in some situations, they can be expensive, fill counter space, and can possibly fail through longtime use. When taking these machines into account, know that staff can be easily trained to do the manual task of lubrication.
The type of autoclave you use and how you perform sterilization are also factors that impact the life of your handpiece. Compared to conventional autoclaves, the cassette autoclaves advocated by Williams have no rise time compared to the 30-minute wait for water to steam in conventional machines. There is no corrosion and down time as the vacuum pump removes all air from the cassette without oxidation and removes all steam from the cassette. Thus, cassette-type autoclaves take a total of 12 minutes compared to the 60-minute wait time for conventional autoclaves.
4. Chemical Wipedown
You should not use any chemical wipes of any kind with your handpieces, as this process is redundant, harmful, and useless. There’s no reason to wipe the handpiece with a disinfectant (where you are just going to introduce chemicals into the head and bearings) when you’re going to kill everything through sterilization. Handpieces should be brushed under running water only to remove external bioburden prior to sterilization.
5. The Practice Type and Number of Handpieces
Some things are outside your control, such as what type of practice you are in, that effect the lifespan of a handpiece. For example, a prosthodontist may use their handpieces more often than a periodontist or an orthodontist. The number of handpieces you have in rotation also plays a factor. If your inventory is tight, it will make a huge difference when one handpiece breaks down and has to be repaired.
The introduction of dental handpieces has revolutionized dentistry. They are an essential part of dental practices as dentists rely on them daily. Despite their importance, however, education is needed to fully understand the intricacies of their design, maintenance, and overall performance. Understanding how they work will extend their life and keep repair costs down. When it does come time to do the necessary repair protocols, it pays to be aware of what steps need to be taken.