A History of Dental Technology – part 5 – Single-use Instruments

Photo - steel-making

A History of Dental Technology – part 5 – Single-use Instruments

A dental history in 8 technologies – part 5

Dentistry has changed in the 150-years or so since it became a widely understood, regulated medical profession. But some of the technologies we use today would be unrecognisable to 19th-century dentists. During that time, procedures, materials technologies, microbiology and electronics have all interacted to create increasingly cleaver instruments, tools, gadgets and procedures for dentists.

Following our well-received article on ‘Coal Fired Dentistry‘, we thought we’d take a quick look at some of the key the technologies we take for granted every day.

Graphic - comparison of normal brain with one damaged by CJD

The difference between a healthy brain and one damaged by CJD infection

Disposable and single-use instruments

Advances in the understanding of the mechanics of dental infection lead to constantly improved best practice.

The Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) scandal of a few years ago pointed out that some pathogens affecting nerve tissue can survive normal decon procedures.

This in turn, alongside the developments in dental drills and hand-pieces, dictated that slow burrs and other instruments used in dentine or within the pulp chamber should be disposable.

Graphic - diagram of an injection molding machine

The Plastic Injection Moulding process. Used for the manufacture of everything from pens to single-use dental instruments

Manufacturers responded by developing a wide range of disposable or ‘single-use’ instruments, but needed to turn to materials scientists to find the right way to make them strong, functional and cheap to buy.

photo - dental burrs

The cutting edge – a close-up of dental burrs, used for cutting into and through teeth.

One of the technologies that have made this possible is the development of plastic as a tooling material. It has a range of properties that make it excellent for the role. It can be moulded to shape, colour-coded, and it is cheap to make and form.

Cheap, single-use plastic can be used for some instruments on its own,

For others, it makes a great handle allowing the instruments itself to be made using smaller amounts of stainless steel, or even lower-cost alternatives.

Photo - finger spreader

A finger spreader – a typical single-use instrument. The plastic handle is designed for ease-of-use, not for ease of contamination.

However, plastic handles and low-grade stainless steel wearing surfaces require also require different clean-down processes and improved clinical waste and ‘sharps’ handling.

This is because these materials are not only harder to clean, but the design of the instruments themselves does not take cleaning into consideration.

Additionally, the conditions in an autoclave and other cleaning systems can cause the plastic components to become brittle, leading to potential failures in use.

The opposite of this phenomenon is the use of very high-quality stainless steel and metal alloys in reusable instruments.

Materials selected for reuse need to retain form and to withstand cleaning processes without corrosion or other degradation. Designers also need to create the shape of instruments to facilitate easy cleaning.

Photo - steel-making

Manufacturing stainless steel – huge machines, incredible heat and precisely controlled processes are needed to make stainless steel and other iron alloys used in the manufacture of dental instruments.

Using single-use technologies with Pearl

Pearl Dental Software is designed to make the smooth and efficient running of your practice easier.

We can’t claim any expertise in materials science or metallurgy. However, our software includes excellent diary management features that not only keep your practice busy, but make it easy for your nurses to understand the treatments they will see during the day, and to plan which instruments they need to prepare.

For more information, please contact us on 0116 275 9995 or email info@bhasoftware.com


Chris Webb