Designed for Safety

October 1, 2020
Renee Knight

Volume 54, Issue 10

NSK handpieces incorporate features that promote infection control—and have for the past 30 years—helping to keep dental professionals and their patients safe.

Reducing aerosols in dental operatories has become a top priority since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic hit earlier this year. Aerosol transmission is among the ways COVID-19 is spread, and when compared with droplets, they are much smaller, travel farther, and stay in the air longer. That’s why it’s critical to reduce aerosol production during dental treatments and for dentists to invest in products that minimize the possibility of cross-contamination and air contamination—and that includes handpieces.

According to Alfred Hayrapetian, product manager at NSK, handpieces come with a variety of features designed to keep the air clean and have been that way since the early 1990s. NSK’s proprietary Clean Head System and the anti-retraction valve are designed to reduce the infection risks aerosols create for both dental teams and patients.

Infection prevention has been a priority at NSK for 30 years, with the handpiece manufacturer offering comprehensive solutions designed to prevent air contamination and put the safety of dental teams and their patients first. And products with a history of reducing aerosols and cross-contamination bring comfort to patients who are nervous about visiting the dentist, especially during a pandemic.

“A clean and disinfected environment including equipment and instruments used directly in contact with a patient is essential in a dental office,” says Hayrapetian. “Handpieces are used directly inside patients’ mouths and are at the forefront of this type of equipment. Cross-contamination is on top of the list of concerns for a patient who sits in a dental chair.”

The Dual Defense System

The Clean Head System and the anti-retraction valve combine to create what the company calls the Dual Defense™ system to control infection, with one preventing suck back into the handpiece head and exhaust line and the other protecting against waterline contamination.

According to Hayrapetian, when using spray water, dental handpieces can produce a significant amount of harmless aerosols unless the equipment is contaminated. NSK’s Clean Head System is designed to prevent contamination. A small, built-in structure is located near the bur and creates a pressure difference between the outside and the inside of the handpiece. Why is that important? It keeps foreign particles and contamination from getting into the handpiece.

“This system will keep the handpiece in a clean state,” says Hayrapetian. “And reduce the chance of cross-contamination between patients.” All NSK handpieces feature the Clean Head System.

The second part of the Dual Defense System, the anti-retraction valve, is designed to protect against cross-contamination in the waterline. How does it work? Once the foot pedal is released, the valve immediately shuts to stop airflow.

“This prevents a backflow of water and foreign particles from entering the internal water system,” says Hayrapetian.

All NSK handpieces, such as couplers and micromotors, come with anti-retraction valves. “With all NSK handpieces being equipped with Dual Defense as a sustainable system that can help prevent aerosol viral transmission, doctors can provide peace of mind for their patients who undergo a dental procedure,” says Hayrapetian.

And this system is proven. The Dual Defense System has been tested and validated by well-known universities, including the University of Washington, Umeå University in Sweden, and National University of Singapore.

Putting Handpieces to the Test

How a handpiece is designed is also key to infection control. Recently, the team at NSK made some comparisons to show dentists their best options for handpieces. Through the NSK Aerosol Experiment Project, the company tested different handpieces to determine which types produced the most aerosols and which produced the least. The team tested electric handpieces versus air-driven handpieces, electric handpieces with and without chip air, and all with or without a suction system.

Electric highspeeds performed the best, producing significantly fewer aerosols than air-driven highspeeds, reducing the risk of contamination and infection to dental teams and their patients.

“As NSK has made its mission to help clinicians to go back to work and patients to be treated in a safe environment during this pandemic, it’s imperative to have reliable studies to prove the efficiency of our handpieces to work without chip air and produce fewer aerosols,” explains Hayrapetian. “NSK has made big investments in equipment for video recording in green laser light to track the droplets and aerosols with high standards.”

The Importance of Proper Sterilization

Investing in the right handpieces is key, but they also require proper maintenance. It’s critical to clean and lubricate handpieces as soon as possible after every treatment. Properly maintaining handpieces not only prevents cross-infection but also gives the instruments a longer life and reduces the risk of them overheating while in use, which can cause burns.

“To prevent cross-contamination between patients, proper sterilization is mandatory,” says Hayrapetian. “Handpieces need to be maintained and protected under the extreme heat and humidity applied by autoclave machines. Just like any other mechanical equipment, proper maintenance guarantees the longevity of dental handpieces. There are certain protocols for cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization of dental handpieces recommended by manufacturers that users need to follow.”

All NSK products come with reprocessing instructions that detail essential maintenance steps, ensuring dental teams properly clean their handpieces so they are safe to use. The company also offers the iCare machine for automated cleaning and maintenance of handpieces.

A Focus on Infection Control

While infection control has always been a priority in dental practices, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it to the forefront in recent months. Dental professionals are investing in new products and implementing new workflows designed to protect team members, patients, and themselves from contracting the virus. They’re looking into new ways to reduce aerosols, from fogging their operatories to investing in air filtration systems.

As dentists think about what they can add and what new precautions they can take, it’s also important to remember there are tried-and-true products shown to reduce aerosols during dental procedures. NSK has made infection prevention a priority for years, offering handpieces with infection control measures built into their design.

“Aerosol contamination is one of the highest risks in a dental clinic environment and has raised concerns, especially during this time of global pandemic,” says Hayrapetian. “NSK has developed systems that can minimize the possibility of cross-contamination and air contamination with our products promoting a safer environment for both doctors and patients since the early 1990s, long before this current pandemic.

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