While odontophobia (fear of going to the dentist) is fairly normal, it’s often quite irrational. With caution and care, dental teams have the skill and expertise to avoid most accidental injuries. Though patients are often most afraid of the drill or dental handpiece, the truth is this kind of equipment has come a long way since its primitive ancestors, which evidence indicates were first used over 9000 years ago. The modern dental handpiece that we know today can be a very safe and durable piece of equipment; however, failure to maintain and/or repair a dental handpiece can do damage to more than just the machinery.
While burns aren’t a regular occurrence, when they are it’s likely the result of failure to notice or repair a dental handpiece. Defective dental handpieces, micro-motors, or ultrasonic scalers are a common source of burns because of their tendency to overheat. Electric 1:5 high-speed attachments are particularly dangerous when not maintained. With a lot of power and around 200,000 RPM, these handpieces can get extremely hot in a short amount of time and when this heat is centralized in a small, closed location such as the mouth, it can cause serious injury to the patient. The most common areas affected are the lip, the tongue, the cheek and the floor of the mouth. Because these injuries most commonly occur during cavity or crown procedures, the patient is often frozen and/or anesthetized, which can lead the heat to go unnoticed. In extreme situations, there have been reports of patients receiving third degree burns and requiring plastic surgery at the result of faulty dental equipment. In order to avoid these accidental injuries, it’s important to inspect each piece before use and perform any needed repair on dental handpiece equipment as soon as possible. Here’s what to look for:
High Speed Handpieces
- The bur is not rotating concentrically.
- The bur is deflecting.
- There are unusual noises.
- There is excessive vibration.
- The equipment is hot.
- The bur slips out.
Low Speed Handpieces
- The bur wobbles.
- The head spindle is worn.
- Latch burs are sticking.
- Latch burs aren’t holding.
- Mandrel burs move in and out of the chuck with pressure.
- There’s decreased power.
- The equipment is hot.
Fortunately, the dangers associated with using a faulty dental handpiece are easily avoidable with continual maintenance and repair; that’s why it’s crucial that all personnel are properly trained on how to clean and examine equipment for signs of damage. Performing a repair on dental handpiece equipment will save more than your investment – it will keep your staff and your patients safe.