Dental handpieces are among the most important and versatile tools used in dental practices today. According to Reports and Data, the dental handpiece market is forecast to reach $2.14 billion by 2027. The demand, the report said, can be attributed to several factors, including an increase in specific dental treatments that necessitate using handpieces, as well as smarter technological advancements overall, especially when it comes to hybrid air-electric, air-driven, electric and cordless models.
Other factors driving the handpiece market are the growing investment in dental care in developing nations, changes in eating and drinking habits across cultures, and an increase in the geriatric population worldwide. Because of cultural shifts and patient needs, dental healthcare professionals are faced with rethinking how best to invest in equipment that will serve patients well and continue to be lucrative well into the future.
With North America dominating the dental handpiece market in terms of sales, U.S. practices are likely also considering how best to meet the newer demands for services. Being able to treat patients quickly and comfortably rests, in part, with the tools being used, as well as how those tools are ultimately cleaned, stored, and maintained – all of which help determine their shelf life.
Ensuring proper dental handpiece maintenance, along with infection control and sterilization measures that meet new standards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to COVID-19, for example, also helps cultivate better handpiece performance overall and a lucrative return on what can amount to very significant investments into these technologies. And because dental handpieces have become such a critical part of patient care, ensuring they are always at the ready and in good working order ultimately maximizes results across the board.
Tips and best practices to extend the life of dental handpieces
The good news is that regular cleaning and scheduled maintenance go a long way toward extending the shelf life of a dental handpiece. Even something as simple as understanding the proper pressure levels can impact the longevity of a built-in turbine. When in doubt, consult the user manual supplied by the manufacturer, especially since air pressure levels can vary depending on the brand and type of handpiece. Using the wrong air pressure can result in turbine failure.
Another good rule of thumb is to contact the manufacturer or supplier with questions about maintenance and troubleshooting. Trying to fix a handpiece can be a complex process, one that generally is best left to the experts. Seeking professional service from a manufacturer or distributor ensures that repairs can be done using quality parts. Many repairs are covered by warranties.
Cleanliness – including wiping down the device after each use – is probably one of the most important factors in ongoing handpiece maintenance. Just remember to keep it simple by using warm water and a mild detergent to wipe down the handpiece before lubrication or sterilization. It’s best to avoid strong chemicals that can cause harmful interactions in the autoclave. And unless the manufacturer advises otherwise, never submerge the handpiece in liquid.
Here are some other important ways you can help extend the life of a dental handpiece:
- Lubricate the handpiece: Lubrication helps the handpiece’s internal components work well (while also eliminating harmful bacteria). For best results, remove the bur before lubricating.
- Know your ports: The smaller of the two holes in a handpiece is the drive air port, which is where lubrication is applied. This also is the port that offers direct access to the turbine.
- Use plenty of lubricant: Be generous when oiling the handpiece, but don’t clog it. The biggest mistake users make is under-lubricating the device. A simple rule of thumb is that you’ll know you’ve lubricated effectively when you see oil coming out of the port.
- Clean after lubrication: After the handpiece has been lubricated, insert a bur and attach the handpiece to the delivery unit and turn it on for about 30 seconds. Another option is using an air flush station. This will expel any excess oil from the device.
- Check the light: Debris can sometimes build up on a handpiece, dimming the light over time. An easy way to avoid this is to regularly clean all fiberoptic surfaces with a cotton swab and alcohol.
- Relax the handpiece: Over time, springs and levers inside the handpiece can compress during heating, leading them to weaken. Consider releasing the tension inside the device by removing the bur and re-releasing the chuck levers before sterilization.
- Don’t forget the chuck: Chucks require care, too. Apply lubricant to the chuck at least once a week depending on use. This can be done manually or using a dental equipment care system that automates the process.
Staying on top of the technology is a great way to avoid mistakes. For example, did you know that the bur must be 100% secure before use? It also should never be in place when a handpiece is autoclaved; otherwise, a corrosive reaction between the various metallic surfaces can occur, leading to premature device failure.
A manufacturer’s manual for use can answer most common questions about what to do and not do when it comes to handpiece care. It’s also important to understand the relationship between the handpiece and other appliances, such as autoclaves. For example, most manufacturers advise waiting for a handpiece to cool down after sterilization before using it. Ideally, it should be at room temperature before use on a patient. If the device is still warm after autoclaving, let it cool naturally. Running the handpiece under cold water can damage it.
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of dentistry, perhaps none so much as increased efforts to prevent infection and cross-contamination. This is especially true when it comes to selecting the type of handpieces being used and how they’re maintained over time.
A busy office will likely have many handpieces in circulation over the course of a day. To ensure that patients can be treated in a timely manner, these devices should be cleaned and sterilized quickly between appointments. Autoclaves and other autonomous systems have made the process considerably faster, easier, and much more effective.
New models also are designed to be as sanitary as possible. For example, features like anti-retractive valves can prevent fluids from the oral cavity from permeating the tubing and water lines. Newer models also are designed to be more comfortable to use, reducing user strain and allowing for more effective treatment. Ask your Patterson rep for recommendations on dental handpieces and tools for cleaning and maintenance.
Gross RE. Handpiece maintenance 101. Dental Economics. April 10, 2015.
MedGadget. Dental handpiece market to reach USD 2.14 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of 5.1%. March 3, 2020.
Patterson Dental. 7 tips for better dental handpiece maintenance. June 4, 2021.
– – –
This article originally appeared in the December edition of OnTarget. Read the latest edition and view current promotions at pattersondental.com/dental/ontarget.