As dental professionals, we rely on the performance and durability of our dental handpieces to deliver exceptional care to our patients. While every handpiece has its own life expectancy based on its use and handling, properly maintained handpieces can last several years. Laboratory testing found that most high-speed handpieces can be expected to maintain their performance through 500 sterilization cycles.
However, there are many common mistakes and shortcuts that drastically reduce the lifespan of these essential instruments, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic upended standard cleaning and disinfection routines. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes handpieces break down prematurely and explore effective strategies to maximize dental handpiece longevity and to help you avoid downtime in your dental practice.
Factors that Compromise Dental Handpiece Longevity
In 2020, the scourge of a worldwide pandemic threw standard disinfection routines out the window. Before we knew that the virus spreads mainly through aerosolized droplets, we looked for surefire ways to disinfect anything and everything that might come into contact with patients. Rapid staff turnover in many offices led to temporary dentists and other team members who were unfamiliar with the instruments and established protocols in a given dental practice. Understandably, dental handpiece cleaning and maintenance veered off course and, in some cases, stayed that way.
Some issues we’ve seen recently that diminish dental handpiece longevity:
- Wiping down with disinfectants: Disinfectant solutions and wipes, such as CaviWipes, became the go-to for cleaning everything including handpieces, despite manufacturer instructions that warn against it. During sterilization, solvent residues can work their way inside the handpiece housing, causing the breakdown of O-rings and corrosion of internal components.
- Rushing sterilization drying and cooldown: Interrupting the sterilization drying and cooldown cycle is hard on handpieces. Moisture remaining inside them causes rust to form. Running them under water to cool them is another source of unwanted moisture.
- Using inferior (non-OEM) replacement turbines: Using inferior, or knockoff, turbines can lead to frequent repairs and internal damage to your handpiece, and voids your handpiece warranty.
- Lack of dental handpiece maintenance: If solvents are used for cleaning and turbines are not changed as recommended, a handpiece’s interior can become corroded and rusty, leading to a complete failure of the instrument.
- Lubricating a LubeFree handpiece: LubeFree handpieces offer a huge advantage for practices that want to minimize handpiece maintenance. However, if a LubeFree handpiece is lubricated even once, it cannot go back to being LubeFree, or it will be ruined. It must continue to be lubricated for the rest of its lifespan.
- Improper handling or dropping handpieces: Handpieces need to be handled and carried carefully to avoid dropping them. An impact from standing height can damage either the head and its internal components or the back end.
- Operating air driven handpieces above recommended pressure range: While it may seem like a higher air pressure will make a handpiece run more efficiently, this actually wears out the ceramic bearings prematurely and will shorten its longevity.
Thankfully, avoiding these scenarios is just a matter of setting the right expectations and training, and for that, DENTALEZ is ready to help.
Your Partner in Dentistry: Your Dental Sales Rep
As in most areas of life, the old saying “you get what you pay for” also applies in dentistry. Dental manufacturers with a long reputation of innovation and customer service attract passionate people who care about customer success over quick online sales. At DENTALEZ, our dental sales representatives will happily discuss handpiece maintenance during sales calls. This consultative approach has never been more evident than as we emerge out of the pandemic.
If your practice is still coping with the negative effects that COVID chaos inflicted upon your handpiece maintenance protocol, contact your Star representative for a reset. They can sit down with your team and discuss cleaning and maintenance practices. Because their entire focus is Star handpieces, a rep can pick up on small habits that may cause handpieces to run poorly or fail that others might miss.
Some things your Star sales rep can help with include:
- Assisting with a post-pandemic refresh of handpiece cleaning protocols, such as putting CaviWipes out of sight so that they aren’t the first thing people reach for when cleaning them.
- Helping to educate new dental practice team members on the use and care of your Star handpieces.
- Investigating issues like handpieces having to be sent out too frequently for maintenance.
- Demonstrating how to replace Star turbines in-office.
- Providing you with a hard copy of our newly developed Star Handpiece Log Book, which allows you to keep a record of warranties and turbine replacements for each and every Star handpiece in your practice.
Proper Cleaning of High-speed, Low-speed and Hygiene Handpieces
Effective cleaning practices are essential for removing debris, contaminants, and sterilization residue from dental handpieces. Because handpieces are medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires dental equipment manufacturers to follow guidelines to create instruction manuals that are scientifically validated to ensure patient safety. Therefore, you should always read and follow the manufacturer instructions for your specific instruments, whether they are high-speed handpieces, low-speed handpieces, hygiene handpieces, or laboratory handpieces.
This section highlights actions that specifically help with dental handpiece longevity—it is not a complete guide. (For detailed instructions on daily cleaning and maintenance of your handpieces, including troubleshooting tips, read our Guide to Dental Handpiece Maintenance.)
- Wipe handpiece down with isopropyl alcohol, not disinfectants or water, and dry it.
- Before lubrication, make sure to check whether your handpiece is a lubricated or LubeFree Star handpiece.
- If LubeFree, do not accidentally lubricate it. Lubricating a LubeFree dental handpiece even once will require it to be lubricated prior to every sterilization going forward. If this is not done, the longevity of the turbine will be shortened, and it will need to be replaced sooner. A maintenance checklist can be very helpful in this instance, to remind dental team staff not to assume that all handpieces should be lubricated.
- If it is a lubricated handpiece, lubricate it with DentaLube II after each patient and prior to each sterilization procedure. Proper lubrication of the ceramic-bearing turbine is vital to reduce friction, heat, and wear on the internal components of your dental handpieces.
- Sterilize your instruments according to the handpiece manufacturer’s instructions.
- Allow your instruments the full time needed to dry and cool down. Allowing your instruments adequate time to cool down after sterilization is extremely important. After the 30-minute drying cycle, the handpieces will cool to room temperature and be ready for use. If we prematurely cut short the drying cycle, not allowing the handpiece to cool down, damage to the seals and gearing within the handpiece may happen over time.
- Keep a minimum of four handpieces per operatory (one in use, one as a backup, one in sterilization, one in cooldown). This prevents having to rush the drying and cooldown cycle in order to have an instrument in hand for a procedure. The backup enables you to still have a handpiece in each phase of the cleaning cycle if one needs to be sent for repair.
- For high-speed handpieces only, about once per week and prior to sterilization, use Junk Out High-Speed Chuck Cleaner in the chucking mechanism where the dental bur and turbine connect. This keeps the opening clean for the bur to insert properly into the turbine, as seen in this quick tutorial with photos.
Regular Maintenance for Dental Handpieces
Keeping the handpiece head in good working order and replacing turbines, when needed, is another way to maintain dental handpiece longevity in your practice. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, every handpiece has its own lifespan. As a dentist, you know how your handpiece sounds and feels when it is new. When it starts to sound different or give you inconsistent power, it’s probably time for a turbine replacement.
Our recent article, The Importance of Using High-quality Turbines for your Dental Practice, discusses the proliferation of inferior third-party turbines making their way into Star handpieces. It details the symptoms and consequences of inferior turbines, how to distinguish an authentic Star turbine from these knockoffs, and what questions to ask to ensure you are getting a Star turbine with a one or two-year warranty.
The easiest and most effective way to know your high-speed Star handpieces are getting top-quality Star turbines with ceramic bearings is to order them directly from DENTALEZ and change them yourself. Ask your rep for a demo or watch this video to see how easy it is:
This feature of Star handpieces gives you peace of mind and ultimately saves you time and money. Sending a handpiece out to a repair shop can take around two weeks, doesn’t guarantee Star turbines. Using non-genuine turbines will invalidate your handpiece warranty.
You may be surprised to learn how few practices remember to register their new replacement turbines! Our new Star Handpiece Log Book helps you manage dental handpiece maintenance, with lots of tips and a page for every Star handpiece in your office to record turbine replacements and other repairs, along with warranty information. Visit this page to register your Star handpieces (and other DENTALEZ products) quickly and easily.
Careful Handling and Proper Storage of Dental Equipment
Proper handling and storage of both high-speed and low-speed handpieces is easily overlooked in a busy practice but is important for dental handpiece longevity. In fact, most manufacturers require that there be no evidence of mishandling as a precondition to honoring product warranties. Just as with cleaning and maintenance, these simple habits can be achieved with education and buy-in from everyone on your team.
With low-speeds, sometimes attachments won’t fit well onto the motor due to a misalignment or damage to the back. Or perhaps a high-speed handpiece won’t fit well onto the tubing or air is leaking after it is attached. Check the connection points. Was the handpiece dropped? If so, make sure it is taken out of rotation and put in a designated area to be sent for repair. One way to reduce the risk of dropping handpieces is to require them to be transported on trays as much as possible.
This should be an easy switch since storing dental handpieces also requires the use of trays. Proper storage is critical to keep handpieces dry and protect them from physical damage, dust, and contaminants. The CDC, in its guidelines for Sterilization: Packaging & Storage says:
“Sterile instruments and supplies should be stored in covered or closed cabinets. Dental instruments and supplies should not be stored under sinks or in other places where they might become wet.”
Professional Repairs Safeguard Handpiece Lifespan
Implementing a regular maintenance routine that everyone follows ensures early detection and prevention of potential issues in your dental handpieces. You can achieve this by engaging your Star sales representative to help educate team members and foster a culture of teamwork. Our Customer Experience page contains links to all the information you need to get started.
If and when issues do arise, such as a turbine either starting to slip or feeling gummy, reaching out for help is simple. Just talk with your rep or initiate a repair with our Star Repair Request Form. Our highly trained technicians have first-hand access to authentic Star parts and will repair your handpiece in two days or less, on average.
By following these guidelines for proper cleaning, careful handling, storage, and regular maintenance, you can significantly extend dental handpiece longevity in your practice. Taking proactive measures to care for these essential instruments not only ensures consistent performance and your patients’ safety and satisfaction, but also saves you precious time and resources.