The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning dental professionals about serious patient injuries caused by poorly maintained electric dental handpieces. Some patients have experienced third degree burns that needed plastic surgery. The burns have occurred during tooth extraction, when cutting teeth and bone, and during other surgical procedures, but overheating could happen during any dental procedure.
The problem occurs if an electric handpiece is worn or clogged. In that case, the motor sends increased power to the handpiece head to maintain performance, which generates heat at the head or the attachment. All of this can happen very quickly. And it can happen without warning, because the patient is anaesthetised so he or she can’t feel the burn and the operator is protected from the heat by the handpiece housing.
Burns are less likely to occur with air-driven handpieces, because if there is a problem such as worn gears or a dull bur, the handpiece will perform sluggishly, and this alerts the operator to get it looked at.
Here’s what’s FDA recommends to prevent burns from electric handpieces. Essentially, it boils down to assuring proper maintenance. For example:
- Maintain the handpiece according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and verify how often the device should be serviced.
- Be sure that personnel are trained to clean and maintain the device, and that they track and record this.
- Examine the handpiece before you use it, and be sure you’re not using a worn drill or bur.
- Finally, it’s also important to understand that the problem of burns from electric handpieces occurs outside the dental area. Similar devices are used in orthopedics, ENT procedures and podiatry, and any of these devices can also cause burns.
(Source: Food and Drug Administration: March 2008)