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A dental handpiece is one of the most important tools used in a dental clinic and is essential for correctly performing restorative dental treatment. As such, it is vital to care and maintain the dental handpieces at your clinic and ensure that you practice dental handpiece sterilization to keep your patients safe and healthy. Read on to learn more about dental handpieces and proper disinfection, sterilization, and maintenance techniques. 


What are Dental Handpieces Used For?

Dental handpieces perform a range of essential functions including removing tooth decay, teeth cleaning, shaping and shaving teeth before dental procedures such as veneers or crowns, removing old, damaged or temporary fillings and crowns, and cleaning and shaping root canals. 


Types of Dental Handpieces

Dental handpieces can be classified into different categories depending on the speed and the power source.

  • Air Turbine

Air driven turbine handpieces are powered by an air compressor that uses high-pressure air to spin turbines to create kinetic energy. These turbines can reach up to 400,000 rpm according to their level of torque.

  • Electrical

Electric dental handpieces use a small electric motor to drive the head of the handpiece without the need for additional power. The have a slower rotational speed of 200,000 rpm but are increasingly being used in dental practices across the country due to the self-contained system, small footprint, and quiet operation for improved patient comfort. Electrical handpieces are also more cost-effective than air turbine handpieces.


  • High Speed Handpieces

High-speed handpieces are essential for the fast removal of tissue and enamel such as when treating cavities, removing tooth structure, or sectioning a tooth for surgery. They are designed for heavy-duty use and are typically louder than slow speed units.

High speed handpieces are designed as a single unit to maintain structural integrity while working at high speeds. They rotate between 180,000 rpm and 450,000 rpm and usually feature a water spray element to cool both the patient’s tooth and the handpiece itself which heat up due to the high level of friction produced by the spinning head.


  • Slow Speed Handpieces

Slow speed handpieces are best suited to the removal of soft decay, trimming and polishing treatments and come with a range of functional attachments, and the motor speed can reach up to 80,000 rpm.

Some of the attachments that are used include straight attachments for trimming dentures, contra-angle attachments for cavity preparation and adjusting crowns and bridges, and prophylaxis angle attachments for prophy work. Most prophylaxis angle attachments are disposable; however, reusable attachments must be sterilized to protect patient health and safety.


  • Burs

Burs are another kind of attachment that is used for drilling into patients teeth and vary in size and shape according to the procedure they are used for. They are typically constructed from steel, carbide or diamond and may have specific cleaning and maintenance instructions, so ensure that you consult the manufacturer for a sterilization guide.


How to Sterilize Dental Handpieces

Using the correct procedure for disinfection, sterilization, and maintenance of your dental handpieces and attachments is vital for maintaining optimal performance and prolonging their lifespan. Dental handpieces can become contaminated with harmful microorganisms as well as patient material during use and so must be sterilized at high heat to kill microbes.

For proper dental handpiece sterilization, transport used handpieces and attachments in a sealed vessel that minimises exposure to other staff. During transportation, staff should wear appropriate protective gear.

Remove burs and attachments, then wipe any debris from the exterior of the handpiece. Sterilize burs and attachments according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Rinse handpieces under water then leave them to dry completely before placing them inside the sterilization pouches.

Place the wrapped handpieces inside the autoclave. Using the autoclave is a safer way to sterilize dental equipment as the moist heat will not damage fragile components, and the moist heat can more effectively penetrate the sterilization bags. The autoclave setting should maintain a temperature of 121C at 100kPa for around 20 – 30 minutes. Check indicator tape to establish whether the sterilization process was effective.

Allow the handpieces to cool completely before use. Using a heated handpiece can damage the turbine.


Final Thoughts

Using proper disinfection and sterilization techniques for your dental handpieces and attachments are essential to maintain the safety of your patients and ensure the continued performance of your dental equipment. If you have questions about dental handpiece sterilization, call Critical Dental on (02) 8806 3763 to speak with our friendly and experienced staff.