26 May Saving Money By Rebuilding Dental Handpieces
Most dentists have heard of pressing your own bearing or rebuilding your own handpieces and wondered if they should be doing this in-house. In this article I am going to go over the advantages and disadvantages of doing this in-house to help you decide if this is right for your practice.
Knowing the turbine components:
Rebuilding a handpiece is quite easy, but you have to understand the function of each item that makes up the turbine before successfully rebuilding a handpiece. The turbine is made up of bearings, impeller, spindle, and o-rings. Each of these components work simultaneously to give you the rotation and torque needed to successfully practice. When any of these components fail, the whole turbine fails. Following are the function of each turbine part and the symptoms of failure.
Bearings – these are the most common component to break. Bearings allow continuous rotation of the bur and contribute to concentric movement. Inside a bearing are 7-8 tiny balls, typically stainless steel or ceramic, that are held in place by a retainer. These balls spin within an inner and outer race allowing for movement of the turbine as a whole. When a bearing breaks, the retainer typically cracks of breaks not allowing for free movement of these balls within the bearings’ races. This occurs due to debris getting into the handpiece during a procedure and the continual sterilization of handpieces between patients. Symptoms you will experience when the bearings are broken are a loss of torque, high pitched squealing, and bur wobbling.
Impeller – this piece almost never breaks and can be re-used in almost all re-builds. The impeller is the center “fan” that catches the air when it pushes some into the head and propels the turbine and bearings into continuous rotation. It is very uncommon for this to break but when it does you will hear noise as if the turbine is spinning but there will be no rotation. This occurs because the impeller is typically pressed onto the spindle but has broken off so it is spinning independently without rotation the whole assembly.
Spindle – this is uncommon to break on a manual or wrench type handpiece and fairly common to break on a push button handpiece. The spindle the piece that the bearings and impeller are pressed onto (exterior), and grips the bur during operation (interior). On a manual spindle (chuck) you use a wrench to collet the bur into place gripping it during operation and on a push button spindle (chuck) you press a button to lock the bur into place. The reason a push button spindle fails more frequently is because on the interior of the spindle you have many moving parts which interact together to open and close at the press of a button. The same debris and sterilization process that deteriorates the retainers on the bearings wears the moving components within the chucking mechanism causing failures. The main symptom of a failure is little to no grip on the bur – can cause burs to drop from the handpiece during use. It is recommended to lock a bur into place then pull it to make sure it is tight before using on a patient.
O-rings – these are the most commonly overlooked replacement part and need to be replaced with every repair. There are 2 o-rings in each handpiece to grip the outer housing of the bearings which allow for free-flowing concentric movement of the turbine while in operation. During use, the turbine assembly is torqued different directions and sterilized forming the o-rings to the particular bearings within the turbine assembly. If the o-rings wear un-evenly, dry up, or fail to grip the bearings properly, you will begin to experience similar squealing or wobbling as experienced with a bearing problem. The difference in the two scenarios is you will not lose torque when the o-rings wear, you will only experience noise and wobble. If these symptoms are ignored, the bearings will not receive the support needed for proper function and will fail soon after.
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Is it hard to re-build a handpiece?
Rebuilding a handpiece is actually quite simple. Following are the steps needed to complete a rebuild:
Insert a 557 or 330 bur into the handpiece
Remove the back cap with a back cap wrench
Remove the back cap and the turbine from the handpiece
Press off the bearings and impeller from the spindle
Remove the o-rings and any washers from the head and back cap
Clean the head and back cap of any dirt or debris
Re-build the turbine
Insert the rebuilt turbine into the handpiece
How much time does it take?
The process of re-building a handpiece can take between 5-30 minutes based on experience. Once you become comfortable with each of the components, the direction they go onto the spindle, and the function of the press, you will be able to complete this process in no time.
What are the cost savings?
I view this question as a question of opportunity cost. If you are choosing to repair your handpieces because you have free time and enjoy doing “fix-it” activities, then you will save money on every repair you preform. If you are spending time repairing handpieces instead of seeing more patients or increasing your total cash flow within your practice, this is not a good use of your time because the value of the dentistry preformed in the time it would take to fix the handpieces exceeds the money saved from outsourcing the work to a repair company.
How long will the handpiece last between each rebuild?
Under standard use and care, handpiece repairs last between 9-15 months. The turbine is only as good as its’ weakest link, so if you fail to change o-rings, bearings, etc. with each repair, you will be cutting down on the lifespan of that particular handpiece increasing long-term repair costs. Professional handpiece repair companies like ours actually save money in the long run. Even regular fixes over a period of years is prefferred over the capital outlay of buying new equipment. If you’re ready to start enjoying savings like this, please contact us today!