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Patients Burned by Dental Handpieces

Q: We heard that patients were seriously burned by electric dental handpieces. Is this true?

A: Yes, the occurrence of these events was confirmed in an FDA Public Health Notification. Serious patient injuries, including third degree burns, have been associated with the use of poorly maintained electric dental handpieces. Also, rotary surgical handpieces have caused patient burns during orthopedic procedures. Specific actions to prevent or minimize the problem include:

  • Being vigilant about maintaining electric dental handpieces according to manufacturer's instructions.

  • Verifying with the manufacturer the appropriate routine service interval for your equipment based on the actual use of your handpieces.

  • Training personnel to properly clean and maintain the electric dental handpieces and rotary surgical handpieces and to follow specific device maintenance requirements.

  • Developing a method for tracking maintenance and routine service for each handpiece used.

  • Examining the handpiece attachments prior to use. Never use worn drills or burs.

  • Do not use poorly maintained electric handpieces.

Posted by Quality America on December 19, 2007 | Comments (2)


I can tell by feel when my handpiece isn't functioning correctly. How would this be missed?

Posted by: Teresa at December 19, 2007 10:49 AM

With air-driven handpieces, sluggish handpiece performance alerts the dental practitioner to maintenance issues such as a dull bur or worn or clogged gears or bearings.

A poorly maintained electric handpiece does not provide a similar warning that maintenance is needed. Instead, if an electric handpiece is worn or clogged, the electric motor sends increased power to the handpiece head or attachment in order to maintain handpiece performance. This increased power can rapidly generate heat at the head of the handpiece attachment. Because the heat buildup is so rapid, and is efficiently conducted through the metal handpiece, a burned patient may be the first indication of handpiece problems.

Posted by: Sarah Alholm at December 19, 2007 10:51 AM

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