The dental assistant’s guide to dental equipment maintenance


Most dental assistants don’t walk around with a tool belt on their waists, but in many offices when a piece of equipment does not work properly it’s the assistant that often springs to action. In addition to all of the clinical responsibilities they have — from patient care to ordering supplies to administrative responsibilities — equipment maintenance is an important skill for dental assistants. Proper maintenance of dental equipment not only helps alleviate the possibility of sudden problems, but can also help to extend the life of the equipment. We tend to know what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis, but what needs to be done on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis?

At the beginning of the day:
• Turn on the vacuum and air compressor systems as well as the master water switch
• If applicable, turn on the nitrous-oxide and oxygen tanks
• If you are still using a film-based processor, turn it on and replenish the fixer and developer
• Fill the ultrasonic with the appropriate amount of fresh water and solution
• Check the water levels in the sterilizer(s) and turn it on
• If using self-contained water bottles, fill and use appropriate waterline maintenance product
• Flush water through handpieces and air/water syringes

Throughout the day it is important to lubricate and sterilize handpieces; lubricate prophy angles (if not disposable), contra angle, and nose cones between patients; disinfect surgery equipment after each patient; flush handpiece waterlines between each patient; and check the water levels in self-contained water bottles.

At the end of the day:
• Run suction cleaner through the surgery’s high suction and saliva ejector tubings, and clean out delivery unit traps or replace if necessary
• If your delivery system has a self-contained water bottle system, flush handpiece tubings, air/water syringes, ultrasonic scalers, and air polishers with air to eliminate to buildup of unnecessary biofilm. See our lubes & dinifection section
• Drain and wipe out ultrasonic cleaner
• Turn off delivery systems, X-rays, sterilizers, power scalers, air polishers, film processor (if applicable), vacuum and air compressor systems, and master water switch

On a weekly basis:
change the traps on the delivery unit, and check and replace O-rings on handpiece couplers and gaskets on handpieces. This is also a good time to check and replace the O-rings on high suction and saliva ejector valves. Remember to disassemble and lubricate the valves. Clean the interior and exterior of sterilizer(s), including reservoir. Check sterilizer filters and perform a biological spore test in each sterilizer if the practice has multiple sterilizers.

On a monthly basis:
• Check, clean, or replace the plaster trap
• Clean the model trimmer
• Clean panoramic/ceph cassettes and intensifying screen
• Check rubber goods on nitrous-oxide systems and emergency oxygen units for deterioration
• Check, clean, or replace master trap

It is also good on a monthly basis to sit in the surgery chair. Take a look at the surgery from the patient’s perspective. What do you see? Is the surgery light clean and fog free? Are there cobwebs in the corners of the room? Look to the left and right. What do you see? Does everything look clean, fresh, and dust free?

Annually, it is recommended to:
• Change sterilizer door gasket and cassette seals
• Change oil (if oil lubricated) of compressor
• Have fire extinguisher(s) inspected
• Have X-ray equipment inspected, calibrated, and certified (or as required/recommended by CQC guidelines)
• Conduct regular staff training
• Review emergency procedures with staff, including how to handle patient emergencies as well as what to do in case of fire, etc.

Each office should have an equipment “first aid” kit. It should contain items that are needed for routine self-maintenance. These include handpiece lube and cleaner; air compressor oil and intake valves; vacuum intake filters, line cleaner, traps and canisters; spare handpiece turbines, chucks, bur tools and cleaners; spare light bulbs for handpieces, curing lights and surgery lights; and spare O-rings and gaskets. Make sure to keep owner’s manuals for all equipment in a secure place, and consult them for manufacturer’s recommended maintenance.  Equipment invoices should also be kept in case warranty issues arise.

It is important to be observant. Note any equipment that exhibits unusual behavior such as loud or abnormal noises or an unusual appearance/discoloration. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your dealer service technician. These skilled, professional technicians are specifically trained to install, troubleshoot, and repair your equipment. In many cases they have been factory trained by the manufacturer, so contact them with any issues outside of the basic care of your equipment.

The information provided here is not an all-inclusive list, and offices are encouraged to determine a maintenance schedule based on their practice’s equipment and state requirements. You should always check with manufacturer recommendations prior to servicing any equipment beyond routine maintenance. One of the best ways to make sure that equipment is in good working condition is to establish a schedule for routine maintenance. When your equipment is properly maintained and serviced, you can concentrate on delivering great care to your patients.

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