Blog Entries - September 2016


Posted on: September 26, 2016

Dental assistants have many important responsibilities. Their tasks include patient care, infection control, inventory control, and equipment maintenance. On top of all of the daily duties, there are periodic chores to do weekly, monthly, annually, or at other intervals. With all there is to do in a dental office, it’s easy to omit maintenance in areas that are highly visible to patients. Here is a list of things you can do to keep your clinical area in top shape and looking great.

Dental chairs

The dental chair and operator stools should be cleaned periodically. Use mild soap and water and clean all surfaces, including the chair base assembly. Upholstery on dental chairs and stools can become cracked and worn over time. Harsh disinfectants can contribute to discoloration or damage. Cracked or damaged upholstery is unsightly and makes cleaning and disinfection difficult. Using plastic barriers can extend the life of the upholstery. There’s no need to disinfect surfaces that are protected by impervious barriers, unless the barriers are compromised or the chair surfaces become contaminated during barrier removal. Contact the chair manufacturer for recommendations on how to keep the upholstery in top condition.

The dental unit

In addition to handpiece, water, and evacuation line maintenance, the dental unit should be checked to make sure that all hoses are free of leaks, dust, and debris. Refer to the owner’s manual for information on what type of maintenance is recommended and how often it should be scheduled. This might include checking air and water pressure and replacing o-rings and filters as necessary. Some dentists like to perform these minor maintenance procedures, while others prefer to bring in a dental equipment specialist. Either way, it is a good idea to have regular maintenance performed on items that need attention.

Overhead light

The overhead light that illuminates the oral cavity should be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s directions. The light becomes hot during use, so be sure to allow the lens to cool before cleaning. Touching a warm lens with a damp cloth can cause the lens to crack. Use a mild detergent and a soft cloth to wipe the lens free of smudges and debris. The reflector can be scratched and damaged very easily by improper cleaning. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely when it is necessary to clean the reflector. Also, make sure there is a spare bulb on hand.

The X-ray unit

When cleaning and dusting the X-ray unit, fully extend the arm assembly holding the X-ray head. Look closely for debris, stains, or other contaminates. If the arm assembly moves or drifts without being touched, it should be tightened. A loose arm assembly can compromise X-ray accuracy and accidentally drift onto the patient’s head, causing injury. X-ray aprons should be checked periodically for cracks or tears. Aprons should be hung rather than folded because folding can crease the protective lining and cause unseen cracks, through which the patient could be exposed to radiation.

Appearance of the treatment room

Working in the same treatment rooms every day can make people immune to signs of wear, age, and disrepair of furniture, equipment, and cabinetry. This can send the wrong message to patients. Our patients expect us to be detail-oriented and our work environment should reflect that. To see your office through the eyes of the patient, take a few moments to look closely at the treatment room. Inspect the surfaces of counter tops, drawers, and shelves for stains or damage. Sit in the dental chair and look around. Are there areas that need cleaning or repair? Next, lie back in the dental chair and look at the ceiling. Are there water stains, broken ceiling tiles, chipped paint, or cobwebs? Finally, look at the flooring for areas that need attention. If the operatory has carpet, are there visible stains? Is carpet cleaning regularly scheduled?

The dental assistant can perform most of the maintenance chores mentioned here. Dental assistants can make a big difference in the appearance of the treatment rooms by focusing on areas that are sometimes overlooked.

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Posted on: September 5, 2016

Not attractive, but essential

Your air compressor is critical to your practice. Here are some facts you need to know about this important piece of your office.

Compared to beautiful office designs, state-of-the-art furnishings, and technologically advanced equipment, the air compressor is not the most attractive component of the dental office. But the role it plays in every smooth-running dental office cannot be overstated — just ask any doctor who has experienced a failing compressor. The air compressor, along with the vacuum system, is the heart of the dental office.

"If there's anything dentists should have the best of, it should be the air compressor and vacuum system, because they keep you working.

How do compressors work?

This often-underrated workhorse compresses, cleans, dries and stores air, which drives handpieces and operates dental units and syringes.

Your compressor performs by lowering the temperature of the compressed air through an after cooler system, removing impurities from the compressed air via an inline filtration system and removing the moisture from the air through a drying system before it reaches your handpiece.

The ability of the compressor to accomplish these tasks determines its performance. Your practice is dependent on a steady, reliable supply of high-quality compressed air. According to Wittenberg, the consequences of not keeping an eye on your compressor are severe. "If this component fails, your office ceases to function," he said. "And your productivity is out the window."

Common problems

The three most common compressor problems Wittenberg has seen in his nearly 30 years with Patterson are dryer failure; lack of air volume, which occurs when the compressor is too small to handle the needs of the office; and air leaks that can lead to a multitude of problems.

Get the right compressor size

A properly utilized and maintained compressor generally lasts 10 to 15 years. Wittenberg said dentists often expand their office space or take on an associate without considering how their compressor will manage the additional workload. "An overworked air compressor won't last as long because it's working harder than it should," he said.

Plus, an overworked compressor will often have a negative effect on compressed air dryness, as the air drying system cannot keep up with an overworked compressor. Therefore, handpieces and dental procedures may be adversely affected due to the "wetter" compressed air.

Click here to enlarge image

I suggest rotating the once-a-week responsibility of checking the air compressor among staff members. "Listen for noises – an unfamiliar sound may indicate a problem," he said.

One way to reduce the odds of your compressor shutting down your office is to purchase a twin head system. "If one air compressor head goes bad, the other will get the office through until a service technician arrives, so there's no loss of productivity. Until recent years, this system was primarily used in rural communities due to the travel distance required for service technicians to fix a compressor problem.

When is it time for a new compressor?

If you have an older compressor, periodically monitor its performance. Efficiency is based on the duty cycle, or time it takes to pressurize the tank from zero to maximum pounds per square inch. Most manufacturers have suggested times for a compressor to pressurize, as well as recommended times to cycle from minimum to maximum pressure.

If your compressor is running too long to maintain pressure, there is either a leak in the system or the compressor is becoming less efficient or "weaker."

Also, monitor quality of air coming from the compressor. Over time, a compressor passing more oil, moisture or debris may indicate the compressor is failing and must be evaluated. You can check to see if the air is clean by doing a simple test using a small mirror. Just blow air from your handpiece tubing onto the mirror. Any debris, oil, moisture or contaminates emitted will clearly show up on the mirror surface.

Which air compressor should I choose?

The key factor — often overlooked by doctors — is number of users. "It's better to meet your user needs or be a little bit over than to have less and risk problems later," he said. A compressor system that is the right size for your practice is more efficient and will last longer.

Oil-less vs. lubricated

There are two types of compressors: oil-less and oil-lubricated. If maintenance is not routine at your office, an oil-less compressor may be the better choice.

Air from an improperly maintained lubricated compressor can become more contaminated over time. Oil vapor acts much like bad cholesterol in the body: components will become clogged or damaged. This oil vapor can negatively impact health, dental instruments and restorations. In addition to demanding regular maintenance, oil compressors require scheduled oil changes. Since they expel oil constantly, oil levels must be checked regularly.

Oil-less compressors also require routine maintenance, including replacing filters.  Oil-less models. "These will be the industry standard," he said. "The new mechanics are better and last longer, and there's very little maintenance."

 Some oil-less compressors may be slightly noisier, but generally these units are housed in a soundproof room or in the basement where noise is not a factor. Soundproof compressor covers are also available. Several of the newer oil-less designs are actually quieter than oil-lubricated counterparts.

Price vs. value

The next important issue is price. Reviewing the benefits and the recommended size compressor for your practice will help you determine which is the best value.

Lubricated compressors cost less. Although in the long run, the cost of oil and wear on handpiece turbines, if the compressor is not properly maintained, may make oil-less compressors more cost-effective. Remember to ask if the compressor you're thinking about buying comes complete and ready to install.

Maintaining your compressor...and peace of mind

Air compressors are designed to provide years of trouble-free, reliable service. Even so, certain components do require periodic attention and service. Failure to properly maintain your compressor can lead to an unexpected breakdown, possibly leaving you in the costly and embarrassing predicament of sending patients home while you wait for service.

If you have a lubricated compressor, it's important to regularly check the oil level and change the oil once a year. Failing to add oil can ruin your compressor. Intake filters will also need to be changed.

In the case of compressor failure, Wittenberg suggests checking your breakers to make sure one hasn't popped. With a twin system, reset your breaker and turn on one head. If it pops again, you know which head is the problem. In this twin system, both heads should run at the same time, unless a problem forces you to use one head temporarily until service arrives.

Service the compressor at manufacturer and vendor intervals; high-quality air can only come from a compressor that's properly maintained and serviced. Service should include checks for leaks in the air line system and a check of the compressor duty cycle during regular office hours. Air leaks cause the compressor to run more than needed, which can shorten its life.

 Each of the top brands of air compressors is worthy of being called the best. What sets these brands apart from the rest? "Reliability and quality of the product and if it does what it says it can do," he said.

Remember, to maximize the life of your compressor, follow user guidelines. "The big thing, is size. Make sure that what you have downstairs can supply what you need upstairs."

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