How a Simple Awareness of O-ring Care Can Reduce Dental Practice Handpiece Repair Bills
Some practices are unnecessarily incurring large handpiece repair bills simply because there is a need for a better understanding of the function and care of O-rings.
For many O-rings are insignificant. They are boring little black things that merit and are paid scant attention. But, they degenerate quickly because they operate in a hostile environment. They are stretched, squashed and abraded, continuously autoclaved and attacked by lubricants and cleaners and when they breakdown, or are missing, dentistry becomes messy and uncomfortable for dentists and patients.
There are thousands of different handpiece O-rings, each has a specific purpose. They range size from less than a millimetre (0.039 inch) to more than 30mm (>1 inch). Millions are used each year to repair handpieces.
Manufacturers go to remarkable and painstaking lengths to perfect O-ring function. To improve the seal on their couplings, KaVo increased O-ring diameter by the width of an average human hair or, for the more technically inclined, by 83 microns and then coated them with silicone to reduce wear and friction.
Dentistry is unable to function without O-rings and therefore the correct care for these small but essential components is paramount. For instance, more water blockages are caused by particles from O-rings than from any other cause while worn, old, low quality, or wrong O-rings will reduce handpiece performance and service life and may cause catastrophic equipment failure.
Handpieces are unable to function without O-rings. They:
- Separate air and water. With wrong or poor O-rings, air and water become mixed. Water damages the bearings, rusts components and if water goes through the handpiece and down the exhaust, it goes into the unit which, understandably, can be disastrous
- Seal joints inside handpieces. Failure here causes a loss in performance and water dripping from the handpiece
- Provide the suspension in high speed turbines. If O-rings are too hard, too soft, too thin or made from the wrong compound (usually to save money) they have the same effect as a poor suspension on our cars. Who wants a rough ride!
- Are essential for handpiece maintenance units. When O-rings are damaged or missing, insufficient quantities of lubricant are delivered and purging will be inadequate. Premature breakdown is guaranteed and if a cleaning solution is used as well (usually these are more aggressive than lubricants), the deterioration will be accelerated
- Include handpiece and coupling O-ring checks in standard operatory procedures
- Replace coupling O-rings regularly, a minimum of once per year and more frequently in high volume environments
- Schedule a regular check of maintenance unit O-rings. At least weekly.
- Look for minor imperfections and do not wait until an O-ring fails
- Use care when fitting and removing handpieces from couplings
- Make sure coupling O-rings are not dry. Apply a thin film of oil if necessary
- Choose a repairer who can accurately measure and test handpieces for internal leakage. That is, test the integrity of the O-rings inside a handpiece
- Know what you are buying and be aware that sometimes low repair quotations may include non genuine or low quality O-rings or, replacing essential O-rings may have been omitted in the repair process
- Keep a spare set of O-rings for all coupling systems and maintenance unit adaptors. That is do not wait for O-rings to fail before ordering replacements
Learn more by purchasing 19 Causes of Premature Handpiece Breakdown and How to Solve Them for less than the price of an O-ring.