The Ethical Choice

Sponsored: KaVo Kerr

A great handpiece design makes it easy for dentists to follow sterilization protocols.

Sterilization best practices have long been considered key to providing safe, ethical patient care. In the past 10 years, infection control experts have added dental handpieces to the list of instruments that present a risk of cross-contamination. “For many years, we have been aware that reusing a dental handpiece without autoclaving it can place patients at risk,” says Noel Brandon Kelsch, M.S., a registered dental hygienist in alternative practice and a key opinion leader for KaVo Kerr. “Related studies have repeatedly shown that both high- and low-speed handpieces that are not autoclaved can be a source of cross-contamination.” (Chin JR, Miller CH, Palenik, CJ, Internal contamination of air-driven low-speed handpieces and attached prophy angles. J Am Dent Assoc. 2006 Sep; 137(9): 1275-80.) In fact, such studies have demonstrated that, even with the use of a simple prophy angle the internal unit of the handpiece can become contaminated, increasing the risk of cross-contamination, she adds.

Infection prevention guidelines in dental practices
In its 2008 Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that handpieces can be contaminated internally with patient material and therefore should be heat sterilized between patient use. “Dental handpieces and associated attachments, including low-speed motors and reusable prophylaxis angles, should always be heat sterilized between patients and not high-level or surface disinfected,” states the CDC. “Although these devices are considered semicritical, studies have shown that their internal surfaces can become contaminated with patient materials during use. If these devices are not properly cleaned and heat sterilized, the next patient may be exposed to potentially infectious materials.”

“Debris, bacteria and viruses are harbored internally in the handpiece,” adds Kelsch. “All available studies demonstrate that clinicians put their patients at risk when they fail to sterilize the handpiece between uses.”

Addressing the challenges
When efficient sterilization processes are in place, the dental practice saves time and money. With the right design, dental handpieces can be sterilized quickly and effectively. Clinicians should look for a handpiece with the following features, according to Kelsch:

  • Sleek design, making it easy for clinicians to grip.
  • Smooth, gapless surfaces, preventing debris and bacteria from collecting.
  • Resilient finish, such as titanium, which withstands chemicals and the sterilization process better than chrome plate.
  • Easily taken apart for simple reprocessing.
  • Easy-to-follow instructions for use.

A good handpiece is well worth the investment, notes Kelsch, especially considering that a single handpiece may last up to 1,000 patient visits. A higher-end, well-designed handpiece that is easier to use and facilitates faster sterilization can lead to reduced time in the chair for patients, she points out, resulting in greater patient – and staff – satisfaction throughout the practice.


SMARTmatic Series

KaVo Kerr’s SMARTmatic Series handpieces are designed for comfort, easy use and efficient sterilization, enabling clinicians to follow CDC sterilization guidelines and ensure their patients’ safety and comfort. The air-driven handpieces feature a high power, precision-balanced turbine for optimum balance and virtually vibration-free operation, and provide reliable performance during crown and bridge preparations.

Features include:

  • Stainless steel, rustproof construction, enhancing the life of the handpiece.
  • One-piece handpiece sleeve with no gaps or edges, eliminating the need to disassemble before sterilization and making cleaning easier.
  • Ball bearings for smooth operation.
  • Smaller head size for improved sight lines.

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