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Maintenance is Key

Posted: 2nd May 2024

Maintenance is Key

In modern dental practices, importance is increasingly being attached to proficient maintenance and optimum preparation of instruments. Experts say that the primary cause of handpiece breakdown and failure is insufficient or incorrect oiling. Common causes include using incorrect oil adaptors, oiling machine failure, or simply a lack of staff training. Checking air and oil quality, using the correct adaptors, and a regular overhaul of maintenance procedures means you can spot any signs of trouble early, and if you do, then it’s time to get some expert advice. In this article, we look at some of the key points to consider to avoid handpiece breakdown.

Air quality: ensuring your dental practice has good-quality, clean, and dry compressed air is essential to the health of your dental handpieces. When you consider an air turbine spinning at speeds of up to 400,000 rpm (revolutions per minute) with bearings that are difficult to see with the naked eye, you will understand the importance of clean air! It only takes the most minute spec of dust to get into the bearings and cause complete bearing failure. Ensure your compressor is regularly serviced and filters replaced, and check that the location of the compressor is in a in a well-ventilated and dust-free environment.

Air pressure: Every dentist wants maximum power at the point of delivery, but it’s important to understand that increased air pressure doesn’t always mean increased torque! Every handpiece manufacturer has their own recommendation on optimum air pressure, so always check the handpiece instruction manual. As a general guide, the air pressure at the point of delivery should be between 2.5 and 3 bars. Obviously, low pressure will not provide enough torque but conversely, pressure that is too high can burn out the bearings very quickly and not necessarily provide any additional torque.

Using a quality maintenance oil is absolutely vital to ensuring effective maintenance of your dental handpieces. The manufacturer’s recommended lubricants have been specifically formulated and tested to optimise the performance of the handpieces. Try to avoid cheaper ‘own brand’ handpiece lubricants, as these are often made from inferior mineral-based oils, which can be very ‘thick and greasy’.

Dental burs should be sourced from a reliable quality dental distributor, as poor quality burs will be inconsistent in shank diameter and can cause chuck damage through excessive wear or ‘jamming’. Also, be sure to reject any burs that become distorted, as these will easily get stuck in the chuck and require handpiece repair. Don’t overlook the need to oil the chuck of the handpiece (where the bur is inserted). The bur chuck mechanism (friction grip) is the most intricate and delicate piece of micromechanical engineering in the handpiece and, therefore, one of the most expensive components. The chuck also happens to be the component closest to the point of abrasion and can become compromised with the ingress of body fluid. Oiling the chuck is a simple procedure with a pointed-type nozzle on the oil can, but it will significantly increase the life of the chuck.

Adequate water supply to the bur during use is essential to maintaining patient comfort and keeping the handpiece operation cool. If the handpiece overheats, not only does this pose a burn risk to the patient, but it can also inflict serious damage to the chuck mechanism. Needless to say, any debris or contaminant in the water bottle supply can block the very small water tubes in the handpiece, requiring urgent repairs. Always ensure your water bottle and water lines are kept scrupulously clean by using a waterline disinfectant daily.

A well-trained reprocessing team is your biggest asset in maintaining your dental handpieces to the correct standards. Rotating staff members with no cross-training will introduce inconsistency in the procedures and risk inadequate oiling, leading to some expensive repair costs.  Introducing an automatic handpiece maintenance unit will improve efficiency and consistency in your processes along with reducing long term costs associated with manual oiling.  Most automatic maintenance units also clean the drive/ chip air handpiece channels in addition to oiling giving you that extra level of decontamination.

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