Smarter Handpieces For Safer, Faster Procedures

June 30, 2020

While there’s no way around using handpieces during this pandemic, some may be better than others in terms of potentially mitigating risk. If you haven’t taken a close look at handpieces in a while, here’s a refresher on what to look for.

There’s no such thing as a “miracle” handpiece that generates zero aerosols. However, there are many options in terms of choosing the next best thing, which are handpieces that meet your clinical needs while reducing aerosol generation and the possibility for cross contamination as much as practically possible. Let’s quickly review some features and performance characteristics that make the most sense in terms of we know about reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

A One-Two Punch Against Aerosols and Cross Contamination

Even if you know what the terms ‘anti-suck back’ and ‘anti-retraction’ mean, you might not realize how important their implications are in our current environment.

The issue of suck back first came to dentistry’s attention back in the 1990s. It became clear that air-driven handpieces were capable of transferring microbes from one patient to the next. That’s because, when air flow is interrupted for braking bur rotation, negative pressure can be created that can “suck back” fluids and debris into the handpiece’s air lines. This problem has been addressed by incorporating anti-suck back systems into well-engineered handpieces by reputable manufacturers.

Not all handpieces incorporate anti-suck back technology. In fact, if you count in all of the cheap, no-name handpieces being sold through auction sites and questionable vendors, probably most of the handpieces worldwide don’t have anti-suck back features. The problem, of course, is that aerosols, fluids and debris that are sucked deep into the handpiece are more difficult to reach and properly sanitize. If the handpiece isn’t properly sanitized, the next time it’s used you’re exposing the patient, yourself and team to potentially dangerous aerosol.

Another safeguard is the use of an anti-retraction valve in couplers and micromotors to prevent water from being drawn back into the dental unit’s hose and water block. Since the hose, water block and valves are not sterilized, contamination presents a huge problem—but only if it occurs in the first place. Anti-retraction technology prevents this from happening, but once again, the higher quality the product, the more effective it is likely to be.

It is important to note that dental units are required to have anti-retraction features, commonly known as duckbill valves, one-way valves, backflow valves and other names. However, handpieces are not required to have these features. Despite that, the very best handpieces do have anti-retraction built into the handpiece or coupler. Why? It acts as a backup. If the valves built into dental units begin to fail before a malfunction is able to be identified, the valve in the handpiece or coupler acts as a backup parachute of sorts.

An Ideal Time To Think About How Performance Also Impacts Your Safety

Clearly, if your handpieces don’t incorporate anti-suck back and anti-retraction features, you’re increasing the risk of cross contamination. That being said, it’s being reported that infectious disease experts now believe the length of exposure to Covid-19 and the amount of exposure are key factors in disease transmission. The risk would therefore appear to increase the longer you’re actually using your handpiece.

A solution would therefore be to use the highest-performance handpieces (and burs) possible. Doing so means completing procedures in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, and with the best clinical result which lessens the possibility that retreatment is necessary. Investing in high-quality, high-performance handpieces generally ensures you’re getting the benefits of not only anti-suck back and anti-retraction features, but also the ability to do faster dentistry that reduces the amount of time you could be exposed to Covid-19. Since dentistry is more time-consuming today, completing procedures faster contributes to meeting production goals as well, which is a welcome side benefit.

The Case For Investing In Quality and Safety

Obviously, low-quality handpieces offer none of the safety and performance advantages we’ve described. They don’t safeguard patients and your team, they don’t allow you to complete procedures as efficiently as possible, and they also may harbor microbes deep inside the handpiece that cannot be effectively neutralized through sterilization. Pre-Covid, we’d simply remind you that they cost you more money in the long run than they save you upfront. Now, however, they add a potential danger factor that cannot be ignored. It’s more important than ever to buy known brands from reputable dealers. High-quality handpieces last longer, perform better, can be relied on for peace of mind and are backed by their manufacturers for longer.

What Else You Can Do

As far as we know, aerosols are our biggest threat right now when it comes to Covid-19, and handpieces play an unavoidable part in generating them. However, in addition to choosing handpieces that address Covid concerns, there are other ways you can potentially ramp up your safety, like:

• Screening patients and doing reduced-contact check ins with stress-avoiding technology like OperaDDS

• Having patients rinse with a hydrogen peroxide or povidone-iodine solution before procedures

• Using dental dams to reduce airborne particles

• Considering the use of chairside extraoral suction

• Implementing enhanced air quality technology

Bottom Line

Benco Dental only sells handpieces by brands we know and trust, from our own Sterling line to exceptional names like NSK, Dentsply, KaVo and more. Now is the time to consider replacing your handpieces if they don’t meet the standards for today’s crisis. Look for the features we described as you browse the latest models in this issue of Big Big Deals. If you have any questions, be sure and reach out to your Friendly Benco Rep for help and answers. At a time like this, when it seems like everything is a little more complicated, choosing handpieces doesn’t have to be.